How Vox Media gets readers to share on Facebook
Before and after Vox released its interview with Barack Obama in February, the outlet teased viewers with a series of video previews. Each a couple of minutes long and seasoned liberally with swooping graphics, the videos were uploaded directly to Facebook and contained excerpts of the president's conversation with Vox journalists Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein.
The videos — some of which contained a link to the full interview — drove traffic back to Vox's website. But that wasn't their purpose. The previews were self-contained pieces of content that lived exclusively on Facebook, designed primarily to entice readers to share. The most popular video was published a day before the interview went live, and racked up 4,606 shares, more than the other three previews combined.
“When you directly upload a video to Facebook, folks just share it at a much higher rate,” said Chris Thorman, director of audience development for Vox Media.
How much more? The numbers vary, but Facebook-native content is frequently shared at rates ten times higher than non-native content across Vox Media's seven brands, according to a company spokesperson. Even though making content for Facebook doesn't necessarily mean more inbound traffic to Vox Media's sites, it does help the company extend its brand visibility on the social network.
“We’re looking at our audience not just in terms of people who come to our website, but we’re also looking at it in terms of our social reach,” Thorman said.
Vox Media is one of a growing number of publishers — think Fusion and BuzzFeed — that are designing videos and images specifically for social media. Although pageviews and uniques remain crucial ingredients for success, these media companies are also trying to reach readers on their own turf.
This platform-specific content could also pay dividends down the line if social networks like Facebook decide to give publishers some of the ad revenue generated by native video, as Lucia Moses wrote for Digiday in January.
The Obama clips, which were heralded as a successful case study in a post on Vox Media's media and marketing blog, offer a glimpse at a few of the company's tricks aimed at creating shareable content for Facebook.
First, give readers something they can't find anywhere else. The first preview was likely the most popular because it came out a day before the interview, making it the only taste of the presidential back-and-forth available online.
"It was also the first piece saying 'Hey we interviewed the president,' so I think there was some natural excitement and intrigue about it," Thorman said.
Another strategy to persuade readers to click the share button: Get the audience development team involved early in the planning process. In this case, Vox's social media team coordinated with other editorial staffers to make sure they had clippable excerpts from the question-and-answer session. When it was time to post the preview online, they were ready with bite-sized presidential monologues on a variety of subjects including foreign policy, income redistribution and the polarized political climate.
Vox Media staffers also try to wring the most information they can out of their Facebook posts, which they've found readers reward with shares, Thorman said. This means taking care to ensure that the headline, the anchor text and the summary blurb for the preview are all different and each contribute to the reader's understanding of what they're about to see or hear. Vox Media's content management system, Chorus, has different fields that allow reporters and editors to write in a headline and pick an image optimized for social media.
Thorman also encourages social media teams to build their previews and native Facebook posts for the busy reader who will likely see the content for a fraction of a second while swiping through his or her feed. With such an small window to reach audiences, catchy headlines are critical because video is muted by default on Facebook. Vigorous, miserly preview blurbs also help, as does a quick entry point to connect with audience members.
One other takeaway from the campaign is that native image posts performed just as well as native video uploads, Thorman said. Despite a report claiming Facebook's mysterious News Feed algorithm de-emphasized photos, Thorman reports that Vox's promotional photos had about the same sharing rate as its videos.