Inside Fatherly’s very grown-up viral video strategy

The millennial dad-focused website Fatherly has been on Facebook barely more than a year, but it’s already using it in a very grown-up way.

Thanks to a quickly, finely honed Facebook video strategy that’s earned Fatherly more than 250 million views in under a year, the site is now using its viral videos to grow not just its presence on the social network, but its email subscriber base, giving Fatherly a powerful return on investment in a platform that many publishers are worried they’re spending too much time and energy on: Of Fatherly’s 250,000 email subscribers, more than 40,000 have come from Facebook video viewers.

“If you’re a publisher that uses Facebook to drive traffic externally, you’re managing decline,” Fatherly co-founder Michael Rothman said. “Any publisher that wants to win in this environment, where they’ve been largely disintermediated from their audience, needs to try and have a one-on-one presence with them.”

The secret to Fatherly’s early video success is pretty evident. Find footage of children doing amazing (or amazingly fun) stuff with their dads, license it, caption it shrewdly, then watch the view counts fly. If it can be tied to something in the news cycle, like this Olympics-themed post of children dominating their peers in sports, all the better: That video gathered 58 million views in less than two weeks.

This strategy, which is also cost-effective — almost all of Fatherly’s videos are a mix of amateur footage licensed from sites like Storyful, user submissions and product footage grabbed from companies’ websites — has helped Fatherly close in on close to 1 million Facebook fans, just 15 months after launching there.

But the viral hits have also been great for pouring people into the top of Fatherly’s marketing funnel. The site’s strategy works like this: Fatherly deposits a link to a text-based story about the video in the comments section of popular clips. It then greets readers that visit through those links with newsletter subscription offers using a company called Bounce Exchange. (Digiday uses Bounce Exchange for our own marketing purposes.)

To fully cover its bases, the site also sets up similar campaigns to catch people that might have heard about the video or want to visit its parent site some other time (“fatherly olympic kids” for the above video, for example).

The spikes in kid- and parenting-oriented searches also help Fatherly out in SEO, too, in some cases helping its content leapfrog competitors on evergreen topics.

Converting visitors into subscribers is important for a site like Fatherly. Rothman said that his site’s email subscribers share its content 3.5 times more frequently than a normal site visitor. But more importantly, being able to address readers directly is vitally important for any publisher, especially as readers grow less and less inclined to travel to a specific website, or open a specific app, to read their content. “We recognize that overall reach for our link-based posts are decreasing,” Rothman said.

More than that, those conversions allow readers to form a strong bond with the site, right away, one that hopefully pulls more people in later. “These videos have become a wonderful calling card for us,” Rothman said.

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