Everything Upworthy Can Teach Journalists

upworthyThis week, New York magazine has a profile of the website we all love to hate: Upworthy.

Upworthy is the bane of many a journalist’s existence. It peddles in clicks, and has people sharing, painlessly and by the millions, pieces of content that concern topics we actually want to report on. A 10-page feature or package with video on the effects of poverty takes months to prepare and weeks to garner attention on Twitter. They find one video on the topic and it has thousands of views. It’s  more BuzzFeed-y than BuzzFeed; they at least have a news team. You should read the whole piece, though, because there are lessons to be gleaned from their success.

1) Ah, the infamous Upworthy style headline. In one part of the feature, they talk about ‘click testing,’ where they run through possible headlines and then see how clickable they are out in the wild. If it’s not clickable, they tweak. Every media outlet can do this, and if you want to garner more traffic, you should. If you feel icky about changing the headline after it’s originally published, just add a note. I see good digital outlets doing this all the time. Slate stories, for example, often have one headline when I see it in the morning and another by the afternoon when I actually get around to reading it. If it requires emails or write offs to tweak a headline or re-run and write a new social media tease to make it more interesting — you’re doing it wrong.

2) The saddest part of the article was that Upworthy thought it was the ‘coolest kid at the party.’ Maybe it is, somewhere, in the Netherlands. Test your brand, talk to your audience. Give surveys. Find out where they’re using your app. WNYC, the public radio station and NPR affiliate in New York, added a feature to their new app where users provide a time frame and interests. It generates a playlist that you can listen to underground. That’s innovative and local. A similar station in the beltway might not need to focus on underground users. If the station didn’t do tests and surveys, maybe they wouldn’t know that users wanted to mix up segments of podcasts during their 45-minute subway ride.

3) Another example from the New York mag piece is that Upworthy staff uses the word ‘upworthy’ more as an adjective throughout the day when choosing content. Talk about living your brand. Don’t forget what you do — are you a start-up investigative reporting outlet that focuses on the effects of the drug war? Make sure you’re living up to that with every editorial choice, every Tweet, every off-the-cuff blog post. Are you a local outlet that reports on township meetings and school board drama? Same. It’s obvious advice, maybe, but always worth remembering. If the Upworthy crew can teach us anything, it’s about sticking to the brand and building around it.

What do you think about Upworthy or the profile of the hem? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @10000Words.