After a first year marked by explosive growth, the social video site Upworthy is now focusing its attention on turning that traction into revenue.
They are piloting ideas right now, but don’t expect banner ads. Co-founder Peter Koechley told TechCrunch that sponsored content will have to be experientially in line with their curated videos, which focus on meaningful issues like domestic violence, education, and gay marriage.
“Our core is finding the greatest content and packaging it extremely well. We think that organizations and brands are finding that pretty valuable. They have the ability to pass through our filter, and have us share it out.”
Upworthy is claiming growth rates significantly higher than comparable sites like Business Insider and The Huffington Post and reporting over 3 million subscribers as of May, following the success of its hugely popular “Wondtacular” video.
Last October, Upworthy raised a $4 million seed round from investors including Facebook’s Chris Hughes, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, and John Johnson of BuzzFeed.
Upworthy’s mission is to make substantive content go viral. The theory is that people do care about important stories — just as much, if not more, than cute, silly cats — and that it just needs better packaging.
Upworthy’s recipe for virality is part emotional and part marketing. The first test is subjective: is the curator, one of about 20 team members searching for content, crying by the end of the video?
The next part is pure metrics and marketing energy. With “Wondtacular,” the team tested 79 different headlines for two days, trying out 8 different made up words until they had one with the best chance of blowing up.
Then there’s distribution. Upworthy has worked hard to build its Facebook community (they have over 2M likes at this point) so that their users would act as amplifiers. They’ve clearly done a good job of that so far.
Koechley said the ultimate goal of Upworthy is to take up the noble mission of a dying old media and ultimately change the kind of things people across the nation are thinking about:
“To drive attention to the things we think really matter, get people paying attention, and pull some attention away from the frivolous stuff.”
Koechley said outright that Upworthy is focused on steady, aggressive growth in the coming year. We’ll see what they’re able to do to turn that meaningful content into meaningful green.