Today at Disrupt NY 2013, Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti took the stage to talk to the audience about how content works on the Internet: What sells, what gets shared and why. Peretti, a journalist, programmer, marketer and founding member of The Huffington Post (now owned by TechCrunch parent company AOL), has long been a student of viral media. Not surprisingly, Peretti’s latest brainchild, Buzzfeed, has turned into publication of record when it comes to Web-born viral content.
Of course, while the publication came to fame thanks to its assiduous chronicling of adorable cats doing people things, under Peretti’s direction, over time it’s transformed into a legitimate news organization, producing real, thoughtful journalism. In his talk today, Peretti started by intoning something we all know well: “People are crazy.”
Things work a little differently on the Internet, “literally” means not what it should mean, but “figuratively,” we do things and act in ways that don’t mesh with how we’d act in the real world. It’s a little like being in a car, really. Peretti says that “we like to of ourselves as having unified, rational selves” — that we have consistent interests, that our behavior can always be explained in normal, neat little ways.
Of course, we’re not really like that, Peretti argues. When we’re out with our college friends, we’re likely to act differently than we would when we’re with our colleagues, or our parents. The same is true for people’s behavior on Google and Facebook. Again, people think they act the same, but really there’s a difference.
When you look at google searches, he saysm perhaps unsurprisingly, “sex is more popular than Jesus on google.” Compare the search terms “diet pills” and “Arab spring,” diet pills win. Obviously, this isn’t what Larry and Sergey had in mind when they started Google.
We use Google to search for secret things, to investigate what other people are saying about our deepest darkest secrets, interests and curiosities. Google Image search is filled with pictures of pets doing hilarious things, while Google search serves up results on the great ocean of porn out there on the Web.
Facebook, on the other hand, is a projection of our social relationships and behavior. Together, they generally represent and are a metaphor for the two ways we use the Internet. On Facebook, the same person who is looking at stories involving nude pics, is also looking at and sharing inspiring stories about victims overcoming disabilities and so on, along with politically-motivated stories.
“On the Web, the emotional quotient is more important than IQ,” Peretti told the audience, these are things that people need to understand when making things for the Web.
Content is about identity, he continued, and capturing that conflicted identity, as well as the emotional nature of the moment.
I wrote something about being excessively tall, tall people loved it. If you’ve been raised by immigrant parents, that’s something that type of person can relate to, want to share and talk about. That’s what you need to be thinking about when creating media, creating content for the Internet.
Peretti’s talk was all over the place, much like Buzzfeed, but also eminently quotable and share-able. For those looking to make the next viral video, make enduring, sharable content, Peretti told the audience not to ignore our conflicted, fractured, sex-obsessed emotional selves.
“If you’re not crazy on the Web, then something’s wrong … Make something for our OCD, narcissistic and ADHD selves.”
YouTube was once the place for random home-shot video skits. But the YouTube of yore has evolved to become a more sophisticated broadcasting behemoth, with live-streaming, big-brand partnerships and movie premieres very much part of its offering.
For sure, you can still watch animals do crazy things, but that’s secondary to what Google really wants its 2006 acquisition to be all about. It wants premium content, against which advertisers will pay top-dollar to have their name associated with.
With that in mind, The Next Web was at MIPCube in Cannes last week (see our full coverage here), where YouTube’s David Ripert was on hand to give a masterclass in how to produce prime online video content.
Ripert runs YouTube Next Lab for the EMEA region, a division focused on accelerating the growth and development of channels and creators on YouTube, which stemmed from its acquisition of the Next New Networks two years ago. It also launched its first UK Creator Space in the UK last year (adding to its existing studios in LA and Tokyo), a dedicated studio whereby budding YouTubers can go to receive expert guidance.
This support includes resources such as tips on writing and, visitors can access cameras and production specialists too. You probably would be allowed to take your skateboarding dog along, but that’s not the point of this particular initiative.
At MIPCube, Ripert also called on the support of Michael Stevens from Vsauce, a highly-successful YouTube channel based around education, science and other cool facts. For example, have you ever wondered what would happen if the sun disappeared?
Or, what about the age-old quandary around what would be the consequences if everybody on Earth jumped at the same time?
Through more than a little meticulous research, Stevens tasks himself with answering these questions in an entertaining and engaging way. “Its taken me a few years to hit on a format that I’m good at and the audience responds to,” says Stevens.
Stevens does everything – the research, the script-writing and full production. “The camera is close enough to my body when filming, I can reach out and refocus it with my hand,” he says. “Nobody else is in the room with me.”
He then edits, uploads and shares across the social sphere. “And if you comment on a video, I’m the one reading and responding to it,” he adds.
Today, Vsauce has somewhere in the region of 3 million subscribers, which makes it one of the top channels on YouTube. Stevens gets more views than many network TV shows can ever dream of.
Despite the advances in the technological realm, it seems companies can’t quite shake off advertising as their main monetization conduit. Indeed, Ripert says thousands of YouTubers make six-figure sums with their original content, based on ads.
Indeed, YouTube is now all about the ads. Without them, it would just be a money-haemorrhaging mess. “We are not a charity,” says Ripert. “We want to make sure there’s premium and original content on YouTube because advertisers are requiring more inventories and we’re trying to drive up CPMs and RPMs. And users are looking for more premium content too.”
Interestingly, Ripert notes that around a quarter of YouTube views are now on mobile devices, a figure that rises to 50% in countries such as South Korea. Connected TVs and set-top boxes (STB) too could be key, helping it transcend laptops, smartphones and tablets to become firmly embedded in the living room.
YouTube has also been iterating its design in recent times, to help both content-creators and content-seekers. Recent changes to YouTube mean the more you subscribe to channels, the more you’ll see down the left-hand side. And YouTube used to allow lots of different branding around the channel and lots of different clickable zones, but now it’s looking to be consistent across all devices.
But the topic of discussion today is specifically about how to create compelling content.
“Finding a strong personality on a show is very important…it’s true for TV and it’s true for YouTube,” says Ripert. “People are looking for people that are funny, surprising, insightful, credible, who they relate to.”
Indeed, a key component to success lies in the people at the heart of it. You can’t really fake passion, and it helps greatly if you care a lot about the subject you’re working with. “If they’re not involved, if they don’t personally care, people see right through it,” says Ripert.
“A lot of folk think you have to be a celebrity to be successful on YouTube, and if you’re a TV or movie star you can just open a YouTube and it will be successful,” he continues. “Nicole Kidman tried that, she started vlogging, and it wasn’t hugely successful.”
In terms of producing videos, consistency is a core underlying facet to success – both in production schedule and style/tone. “A lot of people try to upload a tonne of content – they’ll maybe do a cooking show, then they’ll do a comedy, and different videos every day. What we’ve seen be successful on YouTube is something that’s consistent, so viewers know what to expect for the next episode.”
So, much like TV, you schedule something in for the same time-slot every day or week. But while Stevens agrees that consistency is indeed important for him, he’s not convinced the scheduling aspect is of paramount importance, after all subscribers receive notifications when a new episode is uploaded.
“My content is consistent in tone, but it’s not consistent in terms of release schedule,” he says. “That’s just my own weakness as a person who’s often lazy. But the thing is, when I do release an episode, it’s must-see online TV. My 3 million subscribers are like, ‘well, I know I’m going to love it, because everything he makes is the same’.”
Vsauce is now two-years old, but Stevens has been creating videos since the early days of YouTube. “I’ve literally missed, maybe, two weeks in that time,” he says.
“Even when I went on vacation with my mom and sister to Hawaii, I did an episode called Hawaii facts,” he continues. “The format and my personality evolved together, and at this magic point last year, they clicked and became the same thing. Now, all I want to do is communicate through the channel, and that comes through…and I think that’s why our subscribers have grown so quickly.”
There’s a myriad of other channels on YouTube which help highlight some of the ways people are using it to monetize – and a lot of it is merely as a marketing tool for other channels.
Alex Day, for example, is an unsigned musician who beat Justin Timerlake in the UK chart via iTunes, and he’s only really present on YouTube. He introduces a monthly music video, and blogs in between. “It’s a good example of someone who has a sustainable business on YouTube,” says Ripert.
Day simply posts the video, accompanied by a link to iTunes and, well, that’s it really.
The word ‘viral’ has become laughably over-used in recent times. It’s often seen as the be-all and end-all, and the only metric that matters.
“‘Viral’ for a lot of people means one-time virality,” says Ripert. “And that’s the last thing you want to do – have one video that goes viral.”
While Stevens initially disagreed with this assessment of the word, he later elaborated on how he viewed the terminology.
“Okay, so don’t worry about being Viral,” interjected Stevens. “Worry about being contagious. Viral doesn’t have to be one-off, it can be…how do I get people to spread it to someone else?’ How do I become contagious?’”
It’s a simple question really, but the answer requires YouTubers to really think about their content. Don’t be random – do your homework.
“It’s important to be topical on YouTube – look at what’s happening around the world, see what’s trending on Google Search, on YouTube Trends,” says Ripert. “Be relevant, and be evergreen too.”
In practical terms, this could mean looking at what holidays, events or festivals are coming up. And it’s important to upload ahead of time, not on the day. “This way, you take advantage of people starting to search on Google or YouTube,” says Ripert. “YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world, after Google, so people are searching directly on YouTube.”
You should be thinking about whether people will actively search for the topic or not? And will viewers continue to watch and share the videos that are no longer new? That’s evergreen – non time-sensitive content.
“Think of your content as a conversation,” continues Stevens. “Very rarely would I meet a friend for lunch, and generate a 3-minute introduction as to why I want to tell him the story. I just tell him the story. He already came in, he already knows me. He already ‘clicked’. Just get right into it, it’s not about audiences having an attention deficit, it’s just about audiences wanting to talk, like real people talk.”
Ripert agrees, pointing to one YouTuber in particular for his style of film-making, which he reckons is perfectly suited to YouTube.
“Branding is important, and for the intro, keep it light,” says Ripert. “Philip DeFrancco is an example of how it should be done, he just says something stupid, or something a little quirky. He has his branding and just gets directly into it. Attention is definitely a lot shorter on YouTube.”
“My favorite word – collaboration,” says Ripert.
“This is massively important on YouTube – try to collaborate with other YouTubers and partners, either those who create similar content or different content,” he continues. “Epic Meal Time collaborated with FreddieW – one does cooking, one does DFX – you’d think they never could collaborate. But they did, Freddie did all the effects for this video,” says Ripert.
Tying in with this, you can use partners to cross-promote, in the video description area, for example, or through using clickable hotspots within the video. But why would you want to direct your viewers to content elsewhere? Stevens explains.
“When I send my viewers somewhere else, they wear my team colors,” he says. “For example, the comment section on another video from someone else will be full of people saying ‘I’m here because of Vsauce. Michael sent me, thumbs up if Vsauce is the best’. It’s crazy.”
Vice originally produces longer-form documentaries, which is perhaps not the perfect format for YouTube. “So, they cut them into shorter videos – a 90-minute documentary then becomes ten 9-minute episodes,” says Ripert. “This is great, because it adds additional content for people to watch – it creates more watch time, they stay on the channel for longer. It’s more opportunities for ads.”
Indeed, multiplying a video’s footprint with a different release strategy, tailored specifically for YouTube, is certainly a good way of getting more bang for your buck. And it helps demonstrate one key difference between TV and online video consumption.
“TV, to us, is more of a monologue,” says Ripert. “Not in a bad way…but you sit and passively watch TV. YouTube is more of a conversation, in the sense that people can read comments and interact with the personality on YouTube, and that personality can decide to give back to the viewer.”
The one aspect where YouTube is VERY different to TV is that you can glean immediate feedback on your content, through comments and through analytics. “When you open a channel, you have access to Video Manager, you get a lot of data. There’s a lot of useful stuff in there, you can see how old people are, you know where they are and more,” says Ripert.
In terms of geographies, if you see that there’s a disproportionate number of people coming from Germany, for example, you may want to capitalize on that and cater specifically for that market with subtitles. For Vsauce, it has fans who have taken it upon themselves to dub it into German and Portuguese. ‘Crowd-localization.’
From a more general standpoint, analytics let you see where people are dropping off during a video.
“Rather than going to Vsauce and looking at my newest videos, you should check out some of my older ones, and you’ll see the mistakes I was making and how I evolved,” says Stevens.
“For example, I used to promote my Twitter and Facebook accounts at the end of episodes, and people got used to that,” he continues. “They knew they should just leave as soon as I started talking about Facebook and Twitter. So I moved it to the middle, because I can literally look at YouTube analytics and see, compared to other videos of a similar length, where people are leaving, where they rewind to a lot and watch multiple times. It’s that granular.”
Other key points worth remembering include the meta data, and ensuring the description and so on are accurate and search-engine friendly. Also, the thumbnail image – it can be easy to overlook this, but ensure it’s something attractive and/or illustrative of the content, as opposed to a random shot of an interviewee who nobody knows.
Feature Image Credit – Thinkstock
Originally posted here: Beyond dogs on skateboards: How Vsauce is building a YouTube business and brand
There aren’t very many bootstrapped startups that can claim the kind of stats that the popular image-sharing service Imgur, which won the Best Bootstrapped Crunchies award last year, can claim. Last month, it served up over 3.6 billion pageviews and 56 million unique visitors per month. When the company won its Crunchie last year, it had just hit 1 billion pageviews per month and was still run by a team of just three people. Since then, Imgur has hired four more engineers and is still adding to its team.
We caught up with founder Alan Schaaf and COO Matt Strader earlier this week to talk about the company’s evolution over the last year. When Schaaf launched the site from his dorm room in Ohio with a post on Reddit in 2009, he said he wanted to create “an image hosting service that doesn’t suck.” That clearly worked. Today, the site gets over 255 million visits per month and the average user spends 11:30 minutes on the site and sees 14 pages per visit, Imgur tells us.
If you’ve ever been to Reddit, chances are you are familiar with Imgur. Virtually every time you see a picture or animated GIF of a cat, dog, hedgehog (or a cat snuggling with a hedgehog), monkey or whatever other meme is currently popular on the site, it’s most likely hosted by Imgur. But while Reddit remains a huge driver of Imgur’s growth over the last year, the company’s vision is quite a bit larger than being Reddit’s favorite image host.
Schaaf told me that a good chunk of the service’s growth was due to Reddit growing quite a bit last year, too, but 40 percent of all pageviews now come from direct visitors to the site. Schaaf and Strader attribute this to the launch of Imgur’s gallery feature in October.
Image credit: napsmear
In the long run, Imgur wants to become a destination site that’s synonymous with image-based memes and viral images, just like YouTube has become the go-to place for videos. Looking ahead, this means Imgur will likely develop its own meme and animated GIF generators, for example, as the service starts adding more content-creation tools to its lineup.
As Schaaf noted in our interview, the company has gone through an interesting transition since its launch. In the early days, people would create images, upload them to the site (which hosts them on Amazon S3) and then share them on Reddit and other social networking sites. Soon, that process could look very different, with many users creating the images on Imgur, storing them there and getting lots of viral traffic from within the site itself.
Imgur is also on track to release its own official mobile app later this month. While there are quite a few apps on the market today that use Imgur’s recently launched API, the company only offered a mobile website so far.
Image credit: pizport
While Imgur is obviously profitable thanks to the ads that run on the site, the team is also looking into how it can open up new avenues to generate revenue. The company ran a number of image-based campaigns for movies like “The Dictator” over the last year, but while there are plenty of feel-good images of baby hippos on the site, the overall nature of most of the content that’s being shared on Imgur obviously doesn’t make the site a good fit for a wide range of brands.
One thing Imgur hasn’t done over the last year, however, and isn’t likely to do anytime soon, is take any outside investments. As Strader noted in our conversation, Imgur is profitable and the company doesn’t want to take money just to take it. It’s clear that being independent is a source of pride for Schaaf and Strader. Given that they have manged to scale the company this far, chances are they won’t need any outside investments anytime soon.
The Crunchies are the hottest ticket in town come January 31st, so please join us.
The 6th Annual Crunchies Awards
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
201 Van Ness Ave.
San Francisco, CA
7:30pm – midnight – Awards Ceremony and After Party
A night of celebration with festive attire.
Tickets are on sale here. Be sure to act fast!
Our sponsors help make the Crunchies happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities during the ceremony or after party, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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In this series titled “Defining a growth hacker”, I am exploring the meaning and practical application of growth hacking through a number of interviews with prominent growth hackers. This is the second post the series, which outlines the ways growth hacking changed marketing. You can find the first post, “Defining A Growth Hacker: Three Common Characteristics,” here.
The Internet has been the most disruptive vehicle in modern memory, from buying shoes to connecting with friends. The profession of marketing was no less transformed over the last two decades. Marketing has evolved from rules of thumb to data-driven decisions with the adoption of lean. Danielle Morrill, co-founder of Referly, says “Growth hackers are questioning and challenging marketing as we know it today.”
Obtaining growth with little to no marketing budget, once deemed impossible, is now considered a badge of honor. A growth hacker’s creative ability to grow outside traditional channels has changed the face of marketing in startups. Metrics, scalability, lean, and iteration used to be words only for the product team. Now, the best marketers talk like product gurus and engineers who eat data for breakfast.
Growth hackers changed marketing in five ways: reimaging marketing spend, engineering virality as a core strategy, looking for new channels, pushing the limit, and product-driven marketing.
Growth hackers typically learned the art of growth out of necessity: no marketing budget. While traditional marketing usually involves a budget that maps spending to specific channels, growth hackers have no preconceived notions of which channels will work. Experimentation, discovery, and innovation are the heart of a marketing strategy. Michael Birch, co-founder of Bebo and early growth hacker, explains why: “Budgets make people lazy. They begin to think in traditional terms and don’t innovate.” When a marketer has a budget, they’re tempted to spend it or lose it.
Instead of looking at a budget, a growth hacker looks for arbitrage, whether on a paid or unpaid channel. Blake Commgereage, founder of DeezGames, says that growth hackers look for the channel with the greatest potential; “Don’t make a false choice between free channels or paid channels. As a startup, you are playing a game of arbitrage on the value of a user, CAG versus LTV.” Utilizing paid channels is a reflection of product and market dependencies.
Ivan Kirigin, former growth hacker at Dropbox, says, “Some products lend themselves to certain channels of growth. If you make a lot of money per user, you can easily use paid acquisition channels. If your product involves sharing at its core, virality will matter and you should focus on optimizing it.”
Even though growth hackers will utilize paid channels, the core of growth hacking is the power of loops and virality, aka “free marketing”.
“Going viral” to a traditional marketer is unpredictable, but growth hackers live viral day-in and day-out. Michael Birch says, “Viral marketing is at the heart of growth hacking.” Growth hackers take a very measured and iterative approach to virality that is engineered into the product. “Growth hacking is tied closely to viral customer acquisition, because the best growth hackers can ‘engineer’ viral growth,” says Jesse Farmer, co-founder of Everlane.
An attitude of testing towards an optimize frontier creates a repeatable channel to growth. Just as a software engineer builds a technology with binary, a growth hacker is building growth into a product with data. The entire process is diligent, thoughtful, and purposeful. Every click and tap from a user is an opportunity for growth.
Beyond The Normal
Growth hacking differs from traditional marketing in actively seeking new channels. Danielle Morrill says, “Growth hacking is going an extra step to discover new channels. Normal channels are not enough anymore. Traditional marketers are applying a set of skills to predetermined channels. Growth hackers are making new ones.”
Growth hackers are explorers and constantly researching and testing channels to discover new ways to propel a business. Hockey stick growth comes from exploration of what is not common. Relying on predetermined channels will miss unique and clever growth opportunities that remain untapped.
Pushing The Limit
From the desire to scratch the exploration itch, growth hackers will get quite close to SPAM-land. “Growth hacking can get into a ‘grey area’ of marketing. Typically, a growth hacker is trying to push to do things differently and sometimes you get your hand slapped.” says Matt Humphrey, co-founder of HomeRun.
The rise of the social network has provided a harvest of gawking users ready for the reaping by a creative growth tactics. To be an effective harvester, a growth hacker will optimize to the greatest degree of growth, but this can leave a bad taste if done incorrectly. “Terms of service are secondary to growth hackers,” says Dan Martell, founder of Clarity.
A growth hacker has a day-to-day balance between accomplishing growth objectives and less optimization for user experience considerations. Over-optimization can lead to a misleading user experience and user back lash. The line between SPAM and cleverness is very, very fine.
Top To Bottom
Traditionally, marketing was viewed as a promotional arm, separate from product and development. Growth hackers see product as the main channel for growth and tinkering is required. Greg Tseng, co-founder of Tagged and growth hacker, says, “Traditionally, marketing has focused on external methods to attract users and gain momentum around a product. Growth hacking takes a more internal approach by merging creative and technical abilities to create user-growth mechanisms within the product itself.” Growth hackers are deep into product and constantly iterating. Successful implementations have an entire business perspective.
Jim Young, co-founder of Hot or Not and founder of Perceptual Networks, says growth hackers need a broad view of the business to test “Growth hackers view the whole business, from the top to the bottom, as an experiment. They need to be able to tinker with everything.”
A growth hacker is a superhero spawn of a product manager and marketer with a lens of pushing metrics. From messaging to user experience, it is a top to bottom level understanding of the business. Traditional marketing often looks at product “as-is” and needs to be sold. A growth hacker reverses the equation. Product is intrinsic to successful and scalable distribution, not just an Adwords problem.
With inception of growth hacking, marketing is redefining itself. As mass media begins to die and mass customization becomes the base customer expectation, marketers are faced with a challenge of pushing adoption versus rising acquisition costs. The classic Mad Men marketing joke, “Half of my marketing budget is a waste; I just don’t know which half” is no longer a vexatious rule of thumb. It is simply
Mike Greenfield, 500 startups growth hacker-in-resident and co-founder of Circle of Moms, says, “Marketing is becoming more metrics driven something that old school marketers often don’t fully understand. Growth hacking is a part of rethinking marketing in the age of digital.” Just as the lean startup movement has taken hold as common practice, marketing is getting lean makeover: measured, iterative, action-based, and repeatable.
The next post in this series will explore how a growth hacker should operate in a company, from small to large.
Continue reading here: Defining A Growth Hacker: 5 Ways Growth Hackers Changed Marketing