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Published 08 March 2013 10:09, Updated 08 March 2013 14:34
Give it a rest: There’s no global shortage of political news coverage and Upworthy’s Eli Pariser says his site started to grow once it moved on from politics. Photo: Andrew Meares
What does it take to become the world’s fastest-growing media website?
Pariser is former executive director of MoveOn.org, and founded Upworthy with the Onion’s former managing editor Peter Koechley.
On its website, Upworthy describes its offer thus: “No empty calories. No pageview-juking slideshows. No right-column sleaze. Just a steady stream of the most irresistibly shareable stuff you can click on without feeling bad about yourself afterwards.”
Upworthy says issues still matter, but it’s not interested in partisan political battles.
“We’re a mission-driven media company,” it says on its website. “We’re not a newspaper – we’d rather speak truth than appear unbiased. And we’re not a political campaign – we’re more interested in the powerless versus the powerful than in Democrats versus Republicans.”
Upworthy launched in March 2012. By July that year it had 2.5 million unique views per month, growing to 4 million by August. A month later it hit 6 million and by October was claiming 8.7 million uniques per month, Business Insider reports.
The New York Times’ Media Decoder blog has reported that Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is a backer of Upworthy. Hughes also bought a majority stake in The New Republic in 2012, becoming editor in chief and publisher of the title.
Pariser has a number of tips about what is making Upworthy grow. They’re not written in stone and some may prove to be unsustainable. But taken together they make for a thought-provoking take on ways to bring more information to more people.
Politics is the filler for many news websites, and indeed the news cycle in general. But even though Pariser came from political website MoveOn, he says Upworthy readers weren’t interested, despite 2012 being a US presidential election year. Upworthy broadened its focus and traffic grew as a result.
Pariser says it’s sometimes easier to highlight some conversations that are already going on rather than attempting to work up a new one. On the ancient technique of interviewing, he offers no advice.
Upworthy’s experience is that people spend more time on Facebook, so it’s the place that social media efforts should focus.
Yes, it’s massively time-consuming but Pariser says writing hundreds of unused headlines has the upside of ensuring that the ones that eventually make it on to stories hit the mark and deliver the maximum possible audience.
This tip will chafe many journalists but Pariser argues there’s not much point to a story if no one reads it, especially if a story is worthy or important, but not all that exciting at first glance.
Don’t hang your story out to dry and leave it there. Upworthy sends stories out with more than one headline and analyses which ones are working best.
Upworthy tries to use advertising to get people to sign up for things, especially worthy causes, rather than blitz people’s eyeballs with skins, MRECs and leaderboard ads.
“The funny thing about display, and a lot of online advertising, is it’s still basically the same kind of thing as running an ad in the newspaper,” Pariser told Business Insider. “We focus on engagement and work with groups that want to get folks engaged in their campaigns; we place their messages at the right place, at the right time.”
What? What about engagement? This tip is like kryptonite to conventional web thinking but Pariser is relaxed about what we used to call stickiness. He’s happy for readers to engage briefly, share and then go about their business, confident in the knowledge he’ll be able to get them back again.
Again, upside-down compared to conventional thinking, but Pariser says speed’s not actually all that important. More important is getting the right story out there at the right moment. “Topicality matters but newsiness doesn’t,” he says.
Pariser says that only 30 per cent of Upworthy’s traffic comes from mobile but then again, he admits that his team does spend a fair bit of time thinking about how they can make their mobile site better.
To borrow a baseball metaphor, swing for the fences. Upworthy is trying to make the world a better place, Pariser says, so stories have to jump hurdles that ensures enough people will see them to make achieving that aim possible.