Great Big Story’s Director of Audience Intelligence tells us how the CNN funded start-up puts targeted marketing strategies in place for every piece of content they create. 

Great Big Story Newsroom

Inside Great Big Story’s New York newsroom

With hundreds of millions of video views on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms since launching last October, Great Big Story has announced its arrival in social streams with a bang.
Focussing on a native distribution strategy for video content, the CNN-funded startup produces original video for young audiences on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and their own website.
Most of Great Big Story’s output centres on beautifully-produced videos on off-beat topics like interviews with the world record holder for paper airplane throws, and the World Scrabble Champion. Each of the stories are categorised by topics like ‘frontiers’, ‘planet Earth’ and ‘human condition’, and there’s no hard news. The subject matter is certainly quirky and different, and it’s easy to see how the short videos can encourage binge watches.
But there’s more to Great Big Story’s success than well-crafted videos alone.
Behind the scenes, an integrated analytics approach looks to make sure each video is perfectly pitched. We talked to Director of Audience Intelligence Khalil Jetha about how his team is going about making sure those videos reach the right viewers, and how they’re measuring their impact.
Khalil explains that GBS’s target audience are ‘intellectually curious’ young people looking for something slightly different in their Facebook news feeds.
He describes the site’s content as being “between the grittiness of Vice and the optimism of BuzzFeed.” It’s a video only operation, with native advertising as a business model. So far, all the videos are pretty short. The team doesn’t feel the pressure to ‘lock down’ their audience into watching lengthy online clips. “That’s just not the lifestyle of our audience.”
“Our content appeals to millennials because of its broad range. It’s an eclectic taste set.”
Perhaps most importantly though, they’re looking to deliver the content to the reader on their terms. As a site conceived and created in the advanced social and mobile age, the mindset around distribution is platform-friendly.
“We’re looking to customise the experience on each platform, so it’s unique and natural. We’re trying our hardest to reach the audience wherever they may be,” says Khalil.
Every day, Khalil is focussed on gaining a deeper understanding of GBS’s disparate audience. 
“At the basis of what I do, I try to figure out what people do, and ascribe a reason to why they’re doing it. That’s really important to begin with, primarily because when you’re looking at social media, the different platforms have different consumption and habits of usage.”

A wealth of metrics

Great Big Story
When it comes to effectively measuring what’s working for GBS, the team has no end of analytics to review. But Khalil says that the team take the measurements carefully.
“What we’re looking at is the right combination of metrics in scale. If we have 10 million views but a very limited number of shares, we won’t consider that to be quite as successful as a video that has 500,000 views, but a significant higher rate of shares per view.”
The analytics team looks at regular metrics that would be familiar to most publishers, such as likes, comments and shares, as well as clickthroughs. But they measure each of those in a way that makes sense for their goals.
Khalil explains: “We weigh (metrics) in our own specific way. We gauge whether or not we’ve managed to engage the right type of audience mainly by using social metrics to gauge how well our piece of content has resonated with them.”
This leads to a new distribution strategy for every news story, thus maximising its reach.
“It really is unique. We have a separate marketing plan for each piece of content.”
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Thinking natively

So, what’s different about measuring what’s working natively?
“It’s a little bit liberating. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about becoming a destination. With delivery systems like Facebook, we are able to focus more on the substance and delivery of the content, rather than the distribution. Before Facebook, when we used to create things and digitally distribute, we worried more about the relevance of a specific piece.
We’d have to think about its relevance to the general populace. We’d have to think about what makes them click through to our site, find the video, and then hit play. They have to navigate through a myriad of different obstacles.
Despite worries in some quarters about the potential impact of last week’s Facebook algorithm changes, Khalil is positive about what Facebook offers in terms of reach.
“I think the great thing about Facebook is that it’s a level playing field. If we were to create evergreen content 10 years ago, it would be impossible to scale. You’d be looking for something to inform yourself, and typically that’s news.”
To this point, Facebook video in particular has been a major growth channel for Great Big Story.
In June, Great Big Story made 125 posts on their main Facebook page. Of those 125 posts, 115 were native videos, according to NewsWhip data.
“The vast majority of the content we create is under three-and-a-half minutes long, and the idea is that we’re going to engage the viewer for whatever small part of the day they spend in Facebook.”
And of course, there are differences in what works on different platforms. Khalil gives the following examples: a clip about a teenage sneaker dealer, which attracted 10x the views on YouTube than Facebook, and a video about puffer fish preparation which saw 10.4 million views on Facebook, and 680,000 on YouTube.
[fb_pe url=”https://www.facebook.com/greatbigstory/videos/1540313246271103/” bottom=”30″]

Don’t read too much into view counts

For other publishers looking to implement the most effective means of analytics tracking for videos, Khalil’s advice is to “not to get sucked away by view counts.”
Secondly, gaining a better understanding of what your audience expects on different platforms is key.
“Facebook is a fantastic tool, and a great network to work with because they have such a great reach. However, people use Facebook for a reason.
Figuring out out who your audience is, and why they’re interacting with you on that platform is more important than creating one unified brand strategy across every single social network. When I say that, I mean that you can’t expect to repurpose one piece of content the exact same way and put it up on different networks.”
Khalil gives the example of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver as an example of a legacy media production that’s also doing distributed content successfully online. “It’s really brilliant that you can leverage news-specific  SEO elements without watering down the rest of the show.”
Finally, Khalil says that the most important measure for video publishers is a simple one – time spent watching their content.
“There’s nothing that speaks to the quality of what you put out than those basic metrics.”

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