How 3 Digital Publishers Developed Diverse Audiences With Data

Gathering data isn't the difficult part. Developing meaningful insights so you can make smarter decisions about how to move forward is the real challenge.

As we see more and more publishers shifting their strategies to meet their audiences where they "hang out" (on social media sites and publishing platforms such as Medium), we're also seeing a sea change in which types of content these digital publishers choose to focus on, plus how they draw their readers to it.

What's that old saying? The audience wants what the audience wants?

Upworthy's Meaningful Videos

In a SlideShare deck created by Upworthy's editorial director, Amy O'Leary, the online publication now known for its "steady stream of stories for a better world," apologized for its former clickbait tactics. It is now focused on creating more original content -- rather than aggregating and curating content as it did in the past.

By analyzing user data, Upworthy identified a few elements that make its best-performing stories particularly sticky: humor, surprise, and story structure. In the deck, O'Leary states: "We believe that buried inside the relationship between stories and data, there is the power to change the world." This updated outlook encouraged the creation of more original, feel-good videos that play off of our human propensity for the positive, instead of fear and temptations to click.

As a result, the publication impressively grew its monthly video reach from 5M to a whopping 200M+ views (on Facebook) in a year. Furthermore, monthly video reach grew from 100M to 200M+ views in just three months. The result? Upworthy's audience is no longer cranky from all that clickbait, instead they're engaged. Engaged on and offsite, and that's an accomplishment.

Refinery29's Positive & Negative Story Titles

We all know the power of human emotion, but women's lifestyle publication Refinery29 examined the nitty gritty of title sentiment to see which types of story titles entice the most engagement from its audience on social media. The analysis concluded that "the most shared articles have either very positive or very negative modifiers," giving a clear window into what R29's audience is drawn to. In the analysis, these examples are given to demonstrate the range of emotional titles:

Positive: "Wearable Tech Just Got WAY More Stylish"
Negative: "An Eating Disorder No One Is Talking About"
Neutral: "The Hipster Heat Map of Brooklyn"
*Mixed: "13 Relationships We Loved (& Hated) On Friends"

(*Insufficient sample size for analysis)

R29's analytics and business intelligence team does, however, note that although emotional titles drive shareability, the multiple titles that are created (for testing) don't always align perfectly with the editorial perspective of the articles, themselves. For example, an editor may write a positive, negative, or neutral title for the same story in order to make a point about article or to give the audience the best insight into what the article is about.

VICE's Success With Long-Form Videos

VICE, known for its stouthearted documentary style and "exploring uncomfortable truths," experimented with video length on its YouTube channel back in 2012. According to an analysis on ThinkwithGoogle, viewers watched two of VICE's longest YouTube videos (both more than 20 minutes long) for an impressive 12 minutes on average.

This success debunks the myth that YouTube videos must be short to be successful, and it lets the VICE team know that it's viewers aren't afraid to stick around for what they know and expect from the brand. Take a quick glance at VICE's YouTube channel, and you'll see that video lengths range anywhere from three minutes to around 45 minutes. For comparison's sake, many of the videos produced and published by Upworthy and Refinery29 are under five minutes long.

Final Thoughts

Audience development is all about growing the the best audience for the site and better connecting editorial to its readers. Data is the key to all of it, and the editorialists who understand it hold the key to a publication's growth.