We talk to the Audience Development Director at Odyssey, a new platform with a network of 16,000 content creators.
Since its launch in June 2014, Odyssey has grown fast.
Boasting a high of 30 million monthly uniques at their highest point in 2016, the site raised $25 million earlier this year to grow their output, targeting an audience from 18 to 35 years old.
We talked to Leigh Silver, Director of Audience Development at Odyssey about the site’s growth, and its plans for social domination.
Odyssey originally started out as print newspapers on various U.S. college campuses, but the current digital iteration is different, both in the way it operates, and the users it targets.
Submissions come through a vast network of 14,000 Content Creators, who write content on a wide variety of subjects. Their articles are submitted for approval to a network of editors, who can tweak to optimise for social distribution.
But ideally, that process starts with the creator. They’re trained to optimise their own brand identity for social engagement, and to nurture their own communities.
“We’re constantly testing what works. From content creation, that comes from the creator – we don’t tell them what to write. But we give them lots of tips around what would be a good headline, or how to make the story more shareable. We encourage the creators not only to write great stories, but also how to think about how to get an audience for that content,” explains Leigh.
Leveraging personal accounts
For Odyssey, the article page is very much the landing page. The idea is that readers will find a specific article based on their interests, and go on to read other stories and subscribe to other creators once they get there.
“Odyssey didn’t grow because we had a huge following on Facebook or Twitter, we actually grew because we leveraged the personal accounts of all our creators to generate a more authentic, engaged community.What’s interesting about that is that the people who come to a story on our site are there because they know that writer, or that writer is in their social network.”
Odyssey reached 30 million uniques without use of paid promotion, instead relying on consistent organic growth and peer-to-peer sharing. As for Facebook’s recent algorithm change, putting posts from friends ahead of pages, that development didn’t concern Odyssey’s team.
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“We were really excited when that (first announcement) happened, unlike pretty much every publisher out there!”That’s because it is how our model works – it is friends of friends sharing content.”
Leigh feels that this model of social distribution is set to stay, with the one-to-many model seen its day on social media.
“It’s no longer worth relying on one giant Facebook page to push your story out. It really is the work of the creator to be very skilled across all these platforms. That’s what I hope Odyssey offers.”
“You have to be able to survive on all platforms”
In that spirit, Odyssey’s team has been quick to embrace other platforms to develop their audience.
“What we’ve been encouraging creators to do is post an engaging image to accompany their article, with a caption that directs people to click back to their bio, then click the link in their bio description.That’s actually driven pretty significant traffic for us. We’re now get over 100,000 monthly referrals from Instagram.”
It’s an unorthodox traffic source that plays to the way that Odyssey is leveraging its vast network of contributors.
For now, Odyssey’s main aim is growing its metrics and audience through gaining subscribers, as well as developing their content creator base.
On advice for publishers looking to improve and grow their social communities, Leigh can’t stress the importance of consistently refining social media strategy. Coached by Odyssey’s staff, the writers typically spend 15 – 20% of their time on distribution optimisation, although Leigh says she would “love for that to be much higher”. Training and upskilling in the area of social distribution is key. That mindset, along with experimenting with and adapting to new platforms, are critical for anyone looking to develop their online communities.
“Publishers need to realise that it is a multi-platform world, and if you’re not competing on all platforms, you’re going to fail. I really do believe that. You have to be able to survive on all platforms.”