Startup Case Study: Upworthy

By Cheryl Hayes

Upworthy.com is a social media startup company launched in 2012 by Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley with $4 million they raised from New Enterprise Associates and angel investors, according to Wikipedia.com and privately held by Cloud Tiger Media, Inc in New York City.

The media startup started out with 11 employees, plus the two founders. The startup currently has 40 employees, including reporters, curators, and website and content engineers. Check out the Upworthy team at https://twitter.com/Upworthy/lists/we-are-upworthy. According to Upworthy, its audience consists of “The Daily Show” generation. Upworthy attracts an audience that likes to stay connected to what is going on in the world, but prefers to learn about what happening in the world in a fun way.

Upworthy has done an excellent job at reporting current news, which links viewers to videos that are fun to share on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Upworthy has an eye-catching website that lists various pictures to represent news events followed by a catchy, clickable headline. For example, click this link http://www.upworthy.com/you-should-see-what-this-woman-sees-every-day-its-gorgeous-and-really-messed-up?c=fea to see a video report. Upworthy reports a wide variety of news from around the world, including  topics such as  community, diversity, the economy, entertainment and culture, the environment, gender, guns and crime, health, immigration, LGBTQQ, military, parenting politics, science and technology.

Upworthy describes their goal as trying to “help people find important content that is as fun to share as a FAIL video of some idiot surfing off his roof.”  Upworthy strives to provide news that is awesome and meaningful as well as entertaining, enlightening, shocking and significant. Upworthy’s media technique is best described by David Carr, a well-known reporter for The New York Times, as “serious news built for a spreadable age, with super clicky headlines and a visually oriented user interface.” Read Carr’s 2012 article about Upworthy at http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/09/two-guys-made-a-web-site-and-this-is-what-they-got/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.

Upworthy is also good at making its content go viral. Upworthy often uses a two-phrase headline that is recognizable and it is easily shared from one social media subscriber to hundreds, thousands and even millions of other connected subscribers. In turn, Upworthy receives a great number of hits.

How did they define and meet a previously unmet need? Upworthy conducted a study to learn what makes up the online world in news. Upworthy’s findings were: 200-word articles turned into 15-part slideshows; 19%; things like “weird old tips about belly fat” 27%; social media about social media; 7% long articles we plan to read sometime 6%; tenacious muckraking journalism about potential new iGadgets 3%; stuff that actually matters .01%; and poorly made porn with weak character development 38%. See article at http://www.upworthy.com/could-this-be-the-most-upworthy-site-in-the-history-of-the-internet.

According to David Carr’s article “Two Guys Made A Web Site and This Is What They Got”, Upworthy “optimizes content for social sharing to build traffic and, to generate revenue, works with causes to connect them to an audience in return for a referral fee.”

Upworthy’s media content and market strategy includes those two-phrase headliners that “promise stories that will ‘blow your mind,’ ‘change your life,’ ‘make you feel mesmerized,’ ‘electrified’ or otherwise ‘wondtacular’.” as reported by Christopher Zara for the International Business Times. Read Zara’s article here http://www.ibtimes.com/rise-clickbait-spoilers-bloggers-expose-whats-behind-upworthys-histrionic-headlines-1505972 about Upworthy’s headlines. This two-phrase headline strategy leaves those that frequent the website, or receive the shared content, wondering what the story could possibly contain. It draws the viewers to the content by striking the viewer’s interest and immediate need to satisfy their curiosity.

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