We talk to LittleThings about its revival and what’s coming next.
As publishers continue to navigate the digital age, we saw some struggle against platform changes and shifts in content visibility. One such publisher was LittleThings, which closed up shop back in February.
With 38 monthly million unique visitors at the time of closing, LittleThings still had an ample audience, who flocked to the publisher for its feel-good stories about everyday people. Enter RockYou, which revived LittleThings a month ago.
To learn more, we spoke to Maia McCann, Editor-in-Chief & VP of Content at RockYou Media, and the former Editor-in-Chief of LittleThings.
Maia joined us at our inaugural WhipSmart conference last year, telling us about how emotion influences storytelling. She also participated in a Q&A with us back in January 2016.
As we’ve mentioned, a lot has changed in two years. Maia takes us through LittleThings’ revival, what’s coming next, and where social publishing is evolving.
Can we start with a brief overview of LittleThings’ phoenix-like “rise from the ashes”?
Maia: One week after the shutdown, I was puttering around trying to figure out what to do next when Emily Smith, RockYou Media’s SVP and GM, contacted me via LinkedIn message.
I’d been inundated by messages from people who were interested in buying LittleThings’ social pages, but Emily’s message was about her company’s mission to create a network of powerful publishers who spoke directly to multicultural millennials.
She said that RockYou was in conversations to acquire the LittleThings assets and wanted to know if I would consider coming onboard to relaunch the brand with this new mission. I knew that LittleThings always over-indexed with multicultural millennial women, specifically with Hispanic millennial moms, so I was immediately struck, and impressed, that this data point had attracted RockYou to LittleThings. I was also admittedly extremely motivated to relaunch LittleThings with a group of female executives at the helm.
We’ve been up and running again for a little over a month, so we’re just ramping up now.
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you now?
My role is Editor-in-Chief and VP of Content for RockYou Media, which means LittleThings is a big part of what I focus on, but not the sole property that I’m thinking about in terms of reaching our target audience of multicultural millennials.
Early morning, I check in with LittleThings’ Director of Trending Content, Amy Paige. Amy and I have been working together for over four years now, and she keeps her finger on the pulse of what’s trending — often using Spike. Around 1 p.m., when the editorial team in Los Angeles signs on, I check in with editors about original content initiatives throughout the week.
Nate Lau, RockYou Media’s Director of Social, formerly LittleThings’ Director of Publishing, is involved in all conversations around original content because we’re now teasing launches of originals (especially video) across all platforms. Nate is in close contact with the post-production department, talking through the ever-evolving specs for different platforms.
In the afternoon, I usually have a pre-production or production meeting of some sort. New York is serving as the headquarters for RockYou Media’s video team. We’re bringing some of LittleThings’ most beloved shows back, and we’re launching some awesome new ones.
What are you most excited about?
Successfully and economically scaling video production for a number of brands with RockYou Media’s global creative team is what excites me the most.
We’re in the process of hiring video editors at RockYou’s offices in Bangkok, Thailand. Fun fact: I spent a few months in Bangkok post-college creating theater and studying Thai classical dance at the Patravadi Theatre. That said, Bangkok is near and dear to my heart, and so are the artists who are based there. I’m excited to have another chance to collaborate with creatives on a global scale.
Can you tell us about some of the different projects you’re working on at RockYou?
We just launched The ReStartup, an Instagram-first comedy series chronicling what it’s like to restart a shuttered company from the female employees’ perspective. You can catch it in the @littlethingsusa stories. All episodes are saved in the featured stories as well.
Next up, we’ll be launching a food-focused show that solves common kitchen conundrums, as well as a parenting series with a face you may recognize from reality TV.
What makes LittleThings and RockYou unique on social?
RockYou Media has more than a decade of experience, including a background as a leading gaming media company. We’re focused on employing tactics for engagement and growth that are sticky, relevant, and inclusive.
The acquisition of LittleThings made so much sense for RockYou, with this in mind. Data, stickiness, and engagement aside, what we built at LittleThings had a ton of heart and what we continue to build with RockYou Media will have double that. The team at LittleThings managed to turn a viral blog into a beloved brand — so much so that fans sent us messages and actual videos of them crying after the shutdown. (Seriously.)
Are you platform agnostic or does it matter how you craft your message for each platform?
You can’t be platform agnostic when it comes to distributing video. Messages need to be edited differently based on user behavior and viewing style on each platform.
Having just finished two episodes of an Instagram-first show, I would even say that the core of what the content is, needs to be different for each platform. Instead of looking to our own success stories in video, we actually spent a few hours looking at what used to work on Vine, given the limited time blocks and the easy skip-ahead feature that Insta-stories provide for storytelling.
Working out how to do this at scale for an array of platforms can be complicated, but it’s an opportunity to reach a different (and generally younger) audience — and it’s the future of publishing. At this point, video editors are just as vital to a publisher as traditional editors.
How do you build an audience through content that will not only have a broad reach, but will encourage loyalty and repeat engagement?
Deeper engagement is the key to building a loyal audience. Massive scale is not as easy to achieve as it once was, although at the point of closure, LittleThings was still seeing 38 million monthly uniques.
What does that really mean if people don’t think about your brand or the messages that you conveyed after they scroll past your content? I’m more interested, at this point, in building a brand that’s synonymous with inclusivity, and with creating content that speaks to a niche audience, but that can be understood by many.
How are you measuring your impact? How does that data change what you produce?
I probably measure impact now based on comments and the tagging of other users in the comments, as it more accurately measures the number of people wanting to engage with others about your content. A simple share feels a little more mindless.
I also think the most valuable measurement of impact can only happen when your company is temporarily shut down. How many messages do you get from readers begging you to come back? There’s the real measure. (However, I don’t wish that on anyone.)
What other metrics would you like to see social platforms provide brands?
More insight into dark social.
What platforms do you see audiences gravitating towards over the next three years?
Mainly OTT, Instagram, and subscription video services.
How important is engaging with your audience individually?
Once upon a time, a publisher’s audience could only provide feedback selectively, either through letters to the editor or by canceling their subscriptions. Editorial could pick and choose the feedback they wanted to consider from behind closed doors.
Today, social platforms (the primary means of digital distribution) are making it progressively easier for audiences to access the content creators, telling them exactly what they think — in many cases, publicly.
To ignore or attempt to muzzle your audience is a mistake.
We pushed to involve our core LittleThings audience into our daily show Refresh with the formation of the SugarCubes Facebook fan group. The audience responded enthusiastically. Refresh will be one of the first regular series we’ll bring back.
The current news cycle has definitely impacted publishers and brands. How do you as a brand navigate that?
I think there’s something to be said for providing a respite from the nonstop political news, and LittleThings can provide that. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’ll avoid narratives that push and promote social change altogether.
The word “meaningful” has always been a part of LittleThings’ DNA, and what happened in the wake of Parkland was, indeed, meaningful. Emma Gonzalez is inspiring, and the speech she gave at March for Our Lives would have run on LittleThings, had we been operational at that time.
RockYou Media is actively building and acquiring other brands that will provide a voice for the voiceless and cover social justice more aggressively. I think the days of women’s lifestyle coverage existing in a vacuum, with the complete absence of news, are numbered. I think advertisers were hesitant about living with this sort of content, but more savvy brands want to align with publishers who stand for something.
Thanks so much, Maia! We can’t wait to see great things from LittleThings and RockYou.