How PopSugar went from zero to 14 mil. Facebook video views a month

Six months ago, women’s lifestyle publisher PopSugar had a simple video strategy: Focus on PopSugar.com and distribute on YouTube. And then came Facebook video.

Since PopSugar started posting video directly to Facebook last September, it has seen the power of the news feed, with its video views on Facebook going from 20,000 that first month to 14.3 million views in March, according to the company. That explosive growth is why PopSugar — and the rest of the publishing world — is beginning to consider native Facebook video as essential as YouTube, despite its immature monetization options.

That means PopSugar has to optimize its videos for Facebook. The company creates around 150 original videos per month, the majority of which make it over to PopSugar’s Facebook pages. Many of the videos are identical across platforms, but PopSugar will feature prominent text graphics — an addition for the Facebook crowd, as the platform autoplays videos without sound. It will also pare down some of its longer fare into shorter clips that work well for Facebook’s distractible audience. If a video is over 10 minutes, it won’t work well on Facebook.

“We start out with one goal in mind — we have to run a business — but we want people to be able to find and engage with our video content everywhere they want to,” said David Grant, president of PopSugar Studios.

On the PopSugar Moms Facebook page, PopSugar’s most popular page with nearly a million likes, most videos surpass 100,000 views. A few have cracked a million views. This video about milk-and-cookie shot glasses went viral, racking up more than 9.8 million views since its Feb. 25 post date. That’s what earned PopSugar 18.5 million Facebook views in February, up from 8.8 million in January. PopSugar had actually posted the same video a year earlier on YouTube, where it only has 366,000 views.

Spurred by great engagement and high view counts, PopSugar is shaping its content strategy around Facebook. At PopSugar’s NewFronts presentation on April 30, the company will officially unveil a daily show called “PopSugar Rush,” which will run exclusively on Facebook for 24 hours before it arrives on YouTube and PopSugar’s site.

What PopSugar has found is Facebook videos tend to take off quickly, making the social network an ideal venue for branded video campaigns and viral fare. On-site video enables PopSugar to keep all the pre-roll ad revenue and surround sponsored content with product links to its e-commerce site, ShopStyle.

PopSugar has produced digital video since 2010, when it built studios in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Today, its 30-person video team has a high output, creating around 38 videos each week on topics from fashion and fitness to food and parenting. This week, for instance, PopSugar pumped out videos on how to make the perfect fresh fruit popsicles, do a 10-minute yoga routine while pregnant, and 10 ways to style a midi skirt.

“Life got more complicated when Facebook came along, for sure, because you only have three seconds to get someone’s attention,” said Grant. “But now we’re doing about as many Facebook views as YouTube, which is astonishing, because Facebook is so new. And the monetization thing will figure itself out; it will follow the viewing.”

On April 12, for example, PopSugar posted a 13-minute exercise regimen on the PopSugar Fitness YouTube channel (446,000 subscribers) and the PopSugar.com fitness vertical. By April 24, the video had racked up 24,000 views and 900 likes on YouTube. But instead of posting the whole video on Facebook, the publisher posted a 55-second clip of a single exercise on its PopSugar Fitness Facebook page (344,000 likes), drawing viewers in with large, prominent text for the first eight seconds. In the same time span, that clip drew 85,000 views (meaning at least three seconds of viewership), 1,620 likes and 826 shares.

It makes sense there’s higher engagement on Facebook video because “those like and share buttons are right there next to every video,” said Allison Stern, vp of enterprise at Tubular Labs, a video analytics company. “But comparing Facebook and YouTube views is not apples to apples.”

Progress on the digital video front is one reason why Japanese conglomerate Rakuten, which recently ploughed $300 million into Uber competitor Lyft for an 11.9 percent stake, is reportedly buying PopSugar for $580 million in the next few weeks.

U.S. traffic to PopSugar.com reached 33.8 million uniques in March 2015, up 45 percent from the same time last year, according to comScore. Meanwhile, its U.S. audience watching desktop video on its site and YouTube channels has declined 45 percent to 2.7 million uniques in March, though “this could just be viewers shifting their viewing to mobile,” suggested Adam Lella, senior analyst of marketing insights at comScore.

Main image courtesy of PopSugar / YouTube