"At the crux of everything we do, we want to tell a story" – Vice’s social media team

April 3, 2017

Written by NewsWhip

We talk to the social media team at Vice about how they reach their young global audience on different platforms. 

Since its first incarnation as a Montreal-based magazine, Vice has been reaching young people since the early 1990s.

Still targeting a youthful audience, today Vice’s horizons have expanded significantly as a leading digital media company with a global presence. The site’s main distribution channels are now through social media, where it reaches millions of young people through their international editions in Sweden, Romania, Germany and other countries, as well as through dedicated verticals such as Munchies and finance site Vice Money.

We recently talked to Youyoung Lee and Jack Hansley, Directors of Audience Intelligence at Vice Media, about how they are managing to reach readers on different platforms, including Snapchat Discover.

What are your roles at Vice?

Jack: I work with the social team at Vice. We’re responsible for working together with the social and different content teams, such as video and native, to try to both grow audiences and platforms by utilising best practices and tools that we have such as NewsWhip Analytics and Spike so we can make the best decisions possible on what content goes where, the packaging, and so forth.

I work with the social team at Vice. We’re responsible for working together

Youyoung: We focus on distribution and packaging, we’re always looking for new opportunities for our distribution.

What are your most important channels and content formats at the moment?

Jack: Facebook is definitely our big priority, because of the scale that it has. But we have a pretty big presence with Snapchat Discover too, since we were one of the launch partners there. We’ve been seeing some positive experiences there. We’re always on the lookout for new and emerging platforms, whether it be Apple News, different formats from Facebook, we’re constantly trying to be at the forefront.

Youyoung: Facebook drives a significant portion of our traffic, like everyone else, but we’re trying to diversify our traffic sources. No longer should people be just caring about driving back traffic, but we should be thinking about how our content is being seen in different places. If there are monetisation opportunities there, that’s great, but the content is still being read. A lot of the time, the reporting that is being reflected back to the editors, it’s really important to include how many times a story was seen on different platforms, because that’s just as valuable.

So reach is pretty important for Vice, as a metric?

Youyoung: Yes. Of course we still care about clicks. But making sure that our content is engaging enough for people to remember us and come back to us.

Jack: We’re obviously looking at engagement on each platform, but I think it also comes back to knowing how audiences interact with content. A thing we’ve tested in the past is when we were trying to deeper interface with native video, which takes time and money for something you’re not directly making money off. One of the thing we’ve looked at is trying to figure out if there is an increase in clicks after someone has seen our Facebook native video.

We did some controlled A/B testing and saw that someone that saw a Facebook native video had a higher likelihood of clicking on a link post in the near future – within the next couple of hours to couple of days.

That was the first justification we made to putting resources into native video. We said that it gets our brand out there, and the people who see them have a higher likelihood of interacting with us in a meaningful way further down the line.

So you did see that people who engaged with your native content had a higher propensity to re-engage with your content?

Youyoung: Yes, and that’s something that social media editors should consider. Instead of thinking of link posts as being transactional, think about posts that can get you lifelong fans. It can be hard to measure when people want to know ‘which is the post that gained us that fan?’, but you can see with the overall health and growth of the page that it’s working.

On Facebook video specifically, you tend to see lots of similar videos from different publishers in the news feed. How do you differentiate your video?

Youyoung: That’s a really important factor for us. There are a lot of copycat videos out there, and Vice has all the brands. On the one hand, it’s about understanding best practices, so that you get better real estate in the feed and using subtitles. But beyond that, really keeping our voice and identity intact is really important for Vice. In general, we had a ton of amazing archival videos, so on that front we really lucked out. We could go back to our library and cut down these videos for short form content, and show off this library we have.

But we also have an original content team that shoots videos for our network as well.

Vice goes after a particular demographic – millennials – on social media. Is that a challenge?

Jack: I think we have to be conscious of the audience and the platform on each of the distribution points. While we might tell the same story on the different platforms, it might look and feel a little bit different on a Facebook native video than it does on Snapchat Discover. I think that understanding the audiences on each platform, and how we’re speaking to them allows us to alter and cater to what’s going to work best, while still making sure that we see what’s working best and maintain our brand identity.

Youyoung: Something that we also do with Facebook video is we look at top performing articles and then see if we can turn them into short form videos for Facebook. That’s because if an article is performing well on Facebook, it’s probably going to do just as well, if not better, as a video. The concept is resonating.

There’s an example we did on Tonic, our health channel, about how running isn’t the best way to get fit. It was a surprise to us how well it did, but running is a common denominator. We turned it into a short video and it now has two million views.


Away from Facebook, how has Snapchat been, over two years on from the launch of Discover?

Jack: We’ve been with Discover since the beginning. At first, we were just taking our content and pushing it into the platform without really altering it too much. In retrospect, it didn’t perform the way that we wanted it to. We then swung completely the opposite direction and went extremely ‘Snapchatty’, which didn’t really look or feel like Vice anymore. While we started to see the numbers go up, we were a bit bummed that it didn’t look like Vice.

So it’s been a real concerted effort of ours over the last nine months to a year to find that middle ground. How do tell those stories we want to tell, but make sure that they are engaging on the platform, and that the people on Snapchat Discover do engage with them.

We actually just recently had our biggest day ever on Snapchat Discover, so we’re continuing to see benefits from the platform. Anecdotally, Youyoung and I have spoken to a handful of different people who were introduced to Vice through Snapchat Discover. For us, I think it’s a great way of getting in front of the people that are going to be Vice evangelists in the future – 13 to 17 year olds – and catching them on a platform that they find very relevant.

Youyoung: We’re very cognisant that we’re addressing the next generation of Vice readers, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with Snapchat.

How do you keep the brand across platforms? How do you define the Vice voice across social media?

Youyoung: It’s a voice that very much addresses the youth.

Jack: At the crux of everything we do, we want to tell a story. Whether or not it’s a story of what’s going on right now in the world, or whether it’s an individual’s story or journey, we strive to be original storytellers. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to find success in Facebook native video, and things like Snapchat. We understand what the mission is. It’s not just to get views. If that were the case, you’d probably see us mimicking a lot more native video publishers. Instead, it’s always to be telling a story that we feel strongly about.

Youyoung: And that we have a perspective. One of the more unique things about Vice is that we’re a global network. Oftentimes, we talk to the other global territories, and they are essentially addressing the same kinds of people in their countries that we are here. That’s something that I would say is pretty special.

For International Women’s Day, we had about a dozen of our territories doing livestreams. We were able to sync up and share the livestreams with each other. It didn’t matter that it was in Swedish, or German. What mattered more was that this was an international movement that was happening, and that Vice was here to distribute it as one global voice.

Through our own data, we’ve seen a lot of publishers increase their Facebook engagements over the past few months, and a lot of it is around political content. Have you guys noticed that?

Youyoung: One thing that definitely has been resonating with our readers has been social activism. A lot of these movements are social events that are organised on Facebook and Twitter. We’ve seen that posts from these events perform really strongly on social media. One photo we put on the Broadly Instagram page from the Women’s March was our top performing post of all time.

So what we’re really seeing is not that people are driving traffic to us any more than usual, but people are engaging with the social posts, because they tend to agree with what Vice is covering.

Jack: And we’re seeing that this isn’t just a phenomenon that’s happening in the US or UK. It really is a worldwide thing. I don’t think that we’ve ever been as connected as we have now. We have offices all over the world, and one of the things that that really allows us to do is lean on those other offices to provide us with content and perspective.

Recently, there were protests in Romania. Our Romanian office went out and started doing some Facebook Lives. We shared a handful of them from the global page and both saw an increase in viewership, and also engagement and traffic on round-up posts when we wrote about what was happening in Romania.


So it isn’t just about getting people interested in the social and political happenings domestically, but also showing that it’s a forum for global issues. Young people everywhere face the same issues that they do here. That’s going to be a big strategy for us going forward. Trying to take what each platform offers, and leveraging them to tell our stories well.

Finally, what advice would you give to publishers looking to make a meaningful connection with audiences on social media?

Jack: For me, it’s to understand your audience, and understand your mission. There’s a lot of noise out there, and if you understand who you’re talking to, and what you’re saying, you can cut through that clutter, and make a meaningful impact in people’s lives.

Youyoung: Proper reporting, and understanding where your content is being seen. Don’t miss those areas because all it really takes is one product change and all of a sudden publishers scramble. So monitoring your growth on all platforms, and understanding how your content is being seen is really important.

Get access to the social data that can grow your audience, with NewsWhip Analytics. 

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