By reaching more than 1 billion Facebook users and bringing in excess of 300 million unique visitors to its properties every month, Brainjolt has just about solved the virality mystery.
Brainjolt, which owns four main brands spanning the traditional and social digital spaces (22 Words, MagiQuiz, Bad Parenting Moments and Happiness Heroes), tries to curate the best of the best content for its fans. 22 Words, its flagship site, sees over 50 million unique visitors every month and is consistently ranked in the top 10 mobile sites according to Quantcast.
“We’ve spent the last 10 years focusing on building things people want to both engage with and share,” said Josh Sowin, CEO of Brainjolt. “We don’t want to be part of the noise, so we strive to rise above the attention.”
The 22 Words Facebook page posts both links to popular content as well as curated videos, often getting millions of views on individual videos within a day.
“If we make a video and it got 100,000 views, then that’s not a good video,” he said. “Because we function at such a large scale, it’s dumb for us to say that’s a good video. I could’ve gotten more if I had uploaded it to my own page.”
22 Words, and Brainjolt in general, take a look at all kinds of data both from its proprietary website and its Facebook page. The team looks at negative interactions, such as if people chose to hide or unsubscribe from the page after seeing a piece of content, as well as positive ones like click-through rates and the big indicator of success: shares and engagements.
“We used to have 500 users on our site for most of the month, and every once in a while something would go crazy on Facebook and we’d have 50,000,” said Sowin. “Businesses aren’t able to scale profits thanks to one successful post, so we used data to create more quantity. We wanted to go viral reliably, every day instead of infrequently.”
Over the years, 22 Words did turn that quantity into higher profits. Brainjolt has nearly doubled its revenue, from $17 million in 2016 to the $30 million it’s set to earn this year.
Sowin says “99.99999 percent” of its earnings comes from programmatic sales. He feels some media companies spend too much time and effort on creating native ad campaigns and pieces of content, and would prefer most of Brainjolt’s profits come from the easier-to-negotiate programmatic world.
“It makes sense for us to focus on our strengths,” he said. “Instead of waiting 120 days to get paid after making a direct native sale, we choose to work within the private, programmatic marketplace.”
By creating content that appeals to peoples’ emotions, ranging from happiness to disgust, 22 Words and (Brainjolt by proxy) have been able to tap into what makes their audiences click and share.
Their audience is typically looking to waste some time while they’re bored online. Sowin admits they’re “looking for a distraction.” So, 22 Words supplies interesting content that folks might want to talk about around the water cooler. It’s built for a person who’s “bubbly, kind of smart, nerdy, and interesting,” he said. For those people, there’s a higher threshold to decide what they’ll share or not.
“When things don’t go viral, it’s because the content sucked,” said Sowin. “For us, we’ve learned how to turn that failure into a lesson for future success.”
According to Sowin, there are at least three things a piece of content needs to have for it to be an online hit:
First, did it surprise the audience? Content that grabs attention and stops people from continuing to scroll is ideal. They “have to take notice,” said Sowin.
Second, the content has to keep an audience’s attention. Facebook, within the past few months, has begun to measure how much time people spend on a link once they click through it in order to discourage clickbait-y websites from spamming feeds. And what usually keeps folks focused on content? An emotion. People have to “love it so much, or have so much emotion, that they have to share it,” said Sowin.
Third, sharability. “If they didn’t stop to take notice, then what you made doesn’t matter,” he said. “And if it doesn’t grab them, hold them, and make them feel something, then you’re dead in the water.”