How One Publisher Is Using Data to Make Insanely Viral Facebook Videos for Millennial Moms

First Media breaks down its record-breaking post

Blossom's CEO explains how its videos reach so many moms. Getty Images

This spring, Blossom posted a Facebook video that began with an image of women’s underwear and featured seven tidy hacks for organizing your clothes. The post racked up a staggering 382 million views and nearly 12 million shares, making it the most viral video in Facebook history, according to the company and data from Shareablee, whose numbers go back to 2013.

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The account devoted to household DIY tricks for young moms has been steadily climbing in popularity, surpassing even BuzzFeed’s Tasty to become one of the top 10 Facebook pages for views. (Blossom gets 1.3 billion monthly views to Tasty’s 917 million.)

So what’s the secret to creating insanely viral videos?

First Media, which owns Blossom as well as So Yummy for cooking and Blusher for beauty, has developed a proprietary algorithm that predicts—and picks—which ideas have the most viral potential. The company worked with data scientists to test hundreds of original videos, creating a system that identifies the hallmarks of top videos and actually chooses which ideas are worthy of production. The model saves time and money by bypassing the typical trial and error stage, and gives employees a laser-like focus on results, said Guy Oranim, CEO.

Every video idea at First Media has to pass this two-question test: Why would someone stop scrolling to watch this video, and why would someone share it?

“We screen our videos,” explained Oranim, who left his advertising job in 2003 to create a baby-video company that branched into parenting content. “We need some kind of wow effect—this is the share moment—when the information is either inspiring or useful, or just maybe cool enough to share with my friends.”

The opening frame must compel people to stop scrolling, Oranim said. It’s probably no coincidence that Blossom’s record-breaking, 90-second video led with undergarments. Another one about ways to fix old jeans opened with a woman zipping up her pants and drew 172 million views.

“We started with a strong visual,” Oranim said of the record-breaking video. “It’s stopping you. Most women and men would like to see what’s going to come next. Then we had seven different strong pieces for how to organize your clothes. We didn’t have only one wow factor, we had quite a few of them.”

Not all scene openers are suggestive. Recent examples include someone breaking a plate, dropping a book into a bathtub and preparing to shave her face with cornstarch.

Getting viewers to watch is one thing, but getting them to share is another. Content has to be useful, and it can’t be overtly commercial if you’re trying to reach a millennial audience, Oranim said. First Media focuses squarely on millennial moms, who gravitate toward online communities and will share content if it’s valuable. He credits them, ultimately, with turning First Media’s videos into juggernauts.

“That’s how millennial women react to useful and inspiring information,” he said. “If they appreciate the information, they share it.”

This is where working with brands gets tricky—younger viewers are particularly adept at sniffing out promotional content, and they don’t want to share something that feels like an ad. Like many publishers, First Media’s solution is to integrate brands into pieces of service content.

When Bed Bath & Beyond wanted to communicate that it helps people “make a house a home,” Blossom made a video about grilling hacks using the retailers’ products. When Jet wanted to increase brand awareness, the channel showed viewers how to turn its signature purple boxes into playhouses. Those got 10 million and 3 million video views respectively, much lower than Blossom’s 26 million average but several times higher than the advertisers’ goals. Engagement reached 2 million for Bed Bath & Beyond and 779,000 for Jet.

In another campaign, So Yummy, the cooking channel, developed a recipe for frozen cookie dough pops for the little known almond butter brand Barney Butter. Barney got a 500 percent lift in Facebook likes out of the deal. First Media also places mid-roll ads in its editorial content—you’ll see a couple tips or recipe steps, then wait through a spot for the rest.

“Even when the viewers are aware this is done with a brand and that it has branded content in it, if the content is strong enough they will watch it and they will share it. But you need to be really smart in correlating the right brand to right content and do it in a way that makes sense,” Oranim cautioned. “If you are crossing the line between content to commercial, people will watch it but they won’t share it because they don’t want to be our salespeople.”

"That's how millennial women react to useful and inspiring information. If they appreciate the information, they share it."
Guy Oranim, CEO, First Media

StyleHaul founder Stephanie Horbaczewski agreed Facebook users are particularly willing to share videos. The style influencer agency is aggressively expanding its Facebook content for millennial women after years of focusing on YouTube, where it had 12.7 billion views in the first half of the year.

“On YouTube, you have particular [influencers] you connect with. It’s like a preexisting relationship, where you grew up with them and follow what they do,” she said. “On Facebook, there’s a lot more discovery through friends. A lot of people are sharing a video and recommending it.”

Like First Media, Style Haul “went down a data path,” Horbaczewski said, developing a tool that allows it to track viewers, serve them messages and ultimately inspire them to make purchases. It’s leaning into mid-roll ads, text-based videos and increasingly longer service content on Facebook.

“We’re introducing resources to recut content and make it Facebook friendly,” she added. “Facebook stepped up and added monetization, making it a more attractive platform.”

@stephpaterik Stephanie Paterik is the executive editor of Adweek, where she leads the editorial staff and strategy.