Upworthy, the social sharing site for emotionally resonant videos and links, is the "fastest growing media site of all time," according to Fast Company.
Upworthy, which plucks content from social media and repackages it for heightened emotional appeal, was founded by MoveOn.org creator Eli Pariser in March 2012, and generated 8.7 million unique monthly visitors in its first six months. The idea for Upworthy grew out of Pariser's book The Filter Bubble, which postulates that Internet algorithms insulate people from differing views and opinions.
Last week, Upworthy editorial director Sarah Critchfield presented at the Personal Democracy Forum, a New York City gathering addressing the intersection of tech and politics.
"We concentrate on making issues and meaningful content matter, " Critchfield said. "We work with things like body image, marriage equality [and] global poverty."
Critchfield emphasized the importance of using emotions as data, lamenting the "feminization of emotion" which "has set up a false dichotomy that's distorting our decision making."
One recent Upworthy viral video starred Zach Sobiech, a 17-year-old musician who has since died of cancer. Upon being publicized by Upworthy, the video garnered 9 million views on YouTube and Sobiech became the first independent musician to go to No. 1 on iTunes.
The site's social media impact allowed it to raise $4 million in funding from investors in late 2012, AllThingsD reported.
Instead of traditional banner ads, Upworthy features sponsored sign-up pages for groups like the Sierra Club. Pariser emphasizes interaction in advertising, saying "The funny thing about display—and a lot of online advertising—is it's still basically the same kind of thing as running an ad in the newspaper. We focus on engagement and work with groups that want to get folks engaged in their campaigns; we place their messages at the right place, at the right time."
The company uses a platform called SimpleReach to examine the impact of articles. SimpleReach CEO Eddie Kim told Business Insider, "We have 5,000 publishers, and 20 percent of all social actions we record on a daily basis come from Upworthy—significantly more than any other single site."
To what does Upworthy owe its success? The site's editors calculatedly appeal to emotions, pitching upwards of 25 headlines for a single source before choosing the one that seems to most likely to strike a chord with users. Upworthy editors advocate avoiding polarizing political opinions and using tendentious headlines to grab readers' attention.
"We don't mind tricking people into seeing content they'll love," Pariser told Business Insider. "If they don't love it, they're not going to share it. Virality is a balance of how good the packaging is and how good the content is."