For new publishers, Facebook is quickly becoming the best — and easiest — way to go from zero to 100 million in video views.
Take Vocativ, the millennial-focused publisher that boasts tech for finding stories on social networks before they go mainstream. It has gone from 1.6 million views on Facebook in January to 95.8 million in August. It has also increased the number of fans on Facebook by 370 percent to 448,000 during the same time period.
Vocativ’s chief content officer Greg Gittrich credits the growth to a newsroom realignment that the publisher underwent in January. Vocativ has core coverage areas ranging from national security and technology to culture. Each beat features a team of writers, video producers, data analysts and “growth editors,” who work together to mine and pursue the stories they want to tell — and make sure they get the right distribution.
“We changed how the newsroom was structured and emphasized things that weren’t being emphasized before, and a big part of that was creating video for social platforms,” said Gittrich.
Vocativ produces about 95 videos each month, accounting for roughly 25 percent of all content from the publisher. A lot of those videos are going to Facebook, which Vocativ is focusing on “heavily,” according to Gittrich.
Vocativ is tailoring its content to the platform, with many videos featuring text and no sound and being not more than a minute long. Topically, Facebook videos tend to cut across different verticals and coverage areas. For instance, Vocativ’s most popular Facebook video is under a minute long. It focuses on how 3-D printing could make it cheaper to build prosthetics. The video is made for an autoplay environment, with text overlays throughout. The video, posted a month ago, has gotten nearly 26 million views.
“It’s a great money story, it’s a great health story, it’s a great story about innovation, and altogether it’s a story that tells how tech is changing our lives. Things like that do well on Facebook,” said Gittrich.
That doesn’t mean Vocativ is abandoning YouTube. The YouTube content takes advantage of Vocativ’s technology and data expertise, which isn’t restricted to only mining the deep Web. Any piece of content, whether it’s a video or not, comes from its data platform, which also analyzes social media conversations and trends to determine what readers might be interested in. It’s what led Vocativ to do a video profile of a man named Abu Azrael, an “amazing character” in Iraq’s battle with ISIS, and another that identifies “hidden trends” in Oscar speeches, according to Gittrich.
YouTube is also where longer content — anything from one to five minutes — is performing better. For instance, Vocativ’s four-minute video on China’s abandoned babies, which won a National Edward R. Murrow Award this year, has more than 213,000 views on YouTube, while a shorter version of the video on Facebook has only 11,800 views to date.
YouTube is also where Vocativ rolls out its “franchises,” or video series like “Junk Science,” which have new episodes released on a consistent basis. “Again, it’s taking into account who your audience is as well as their expectations depending on the platform,” said Gittrich.
Of course, while the growth stats are impressive, Vocativ still has a way to go before catching up with other millennial-focused publishers on Facebook and YouTube. In August, AJ+, Al Jazeera’s digital news network, did 194.9 million views on Facebook and Vice News generated 11.9 million views on YouTube, according to Tubular Labs.
While it seems like Facebook and YouTube are becoming vital distribution platforms for video publishers, whether a content owner should use either platform is dependent on who that publisher is, according to Dan Cryan, research director for digital media at IHS. “If you’re [a TV network], you have to strike a very delicate balance between making sure you’re following the eyeballs and not trading in your very lucrative historical business for a proportionally smaller digital business,” he said. “To an extent you need to cannibalize yourself. If you do it too quickly, though, you’re leaving money on the table. That basic rule of thumb applies to online publishers as well.”
Nine months into the new strategy, Gittrich said he’s satisfied with the growth and expects more by the end of the year as Vocativ also builds out its staff and video capabilities. The company has hired 25 journalists since January and expects to hire another 20 — across all disciplines — by the end of the year. It has also moved into a new office space with a full studio and editing space and plans to build a branded content studio, employing the same data methods for ad partners.
“We love using tech to tell great stories,” said Gittrich. “We’re experimenting with everything from IoT sensors to drones for news-gathering to tap into even more public data across the deep Web.”
Images via Vocativ’s documentary “The Houses Where China Abandons Its Babies”