With The Snug, Time Inc. gets a lesson in lean viral publishing

With The Snug, Time Inc. is discovering how much it can do with very little.

The millennial DIY and home decoration site, launched in January, is a lynchpin of Time Inc’s efforts to experiment with new story forms and digital distribution. Its content, a mix of social-friendly posts and videos syndicated from Time sites and partner publishers, has been efficient when it comes to attracting readers. The Snug’s stories, which Newswhip said got an average of 665 likes and shares in November, help the site get 200,000 unique visitors a month, according to comScore. (Time Inc. says its internal analytics see a monthly audience of 1 million.)

While The Snug publishes around 20-35 stories each day, only about 10 are original pieces. Instead, the site’s main tack is to monitor 20-50 external sites and 16 Time Inc. properties for content that can repackaged and amplified through its own channels. Typically, these repackaged stories do far better than the originals. A 2013 video from Time’s This Old House had just 245 likes on Facebook in two years before The Snug found and repackaged it. Within two days of republishing the story, the post got 5,000  likes on Facebook.

“Our strategy is a cocktail of finding existing content likely  to go viral, repackaging it, and then finding existing communities to target those messages to,” said The Snug editor Tabitha Sukhai.

The Snug has applied a similar “identify and amplify” formula to sponsored content campaigns with brands such as Ikea and Wayfair. As part of its ongoing campaign with Lowes, for example, The Snug took existing posts about gift wrapping and bathroom redecoration from Lowes.com and repackaged them for its own audience.  Brands also pay to run standard banners on the site.

The Snug owes a lot of its reach to its ability to zero in on the tastes and preferences of its millennial readership, which is 80 percent of its audience. It’s posts are typically short on text and heavy on photos and GIFs, with headlines full of hashtags and abbreviations. Another editorial decision likely to rankle copy editors: The Snug’s headlines aren’t capitalized, a feature that the site said accentuates all those hashtags and abbreviations it uses and, generally, works well for an audience that’s used to informal communication such as texting.

The site skipped the Time Inc. content-management system in favor or RebelMouse, the CMS created by former Huffington Post CTO Paul Berry that’s optimized for viral content. RebelMouse also powers animal-focused viral site, The Dodo, which has also grown quickly using the platform.

Time Inc. has applied the Snug formula to varying degrees with other new products. A month after the site’s launch, Time announced Mimi, a beauty site with a similar focus on sourcing stories from a variety of places. Earlier this year, Time also launched The Drive, which has taken the approach to car news. Time Inc. this year also acquired HelloGiggles and XOJane, which have taken the millennial focus to women’s lifestyle coverage.

Overall, The Snug’s voice is a way of speaking to readers that has “opened people’s eyes” at Time Inc., which, like most legacy publishers, is used to top-down, authority driven writing, said Scott Omelianuk, editor of This Old House and editorial director of The Snug.

“This is the kind approach that just wasn’t happening before, and wouldn’t have happened without a new brand being out there trying it out,” he said.

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