How Great Big Story Built A Successful Content Strategy Informed By Data

Rarely do we experience a story that teaches us truly valuable lessons, grounded in solid decision-making, which makes us rethink our perspective and seed valuable insights.

Great Big Story exemplifies how to build a content strategy informed by data and social media, successfully.

Chris Berend, Vice President for Global Video Development for CNN and Co-Founder of Great Big Story, and Khalil Jetha, Director of Audience Intelligence, Great Big Story, introduced us to their new video network.

“We love things that make you think, things that are unexpected,” Chris said. Great Big Story was built on two very smart insights. The first, there is a huge audience of people getting news from social platforms, and opting not to go to direct news sources, especially in 25-35 year olds.

The second, that they could put a team together to develop something that wasn’t already offered, but was needed: a news source, full of quality content that would fit into news this audience was already consuming.

Everything from the content delivery, to the design elements, to the strategy, was built upon who the audience is. Well, who is it? It’s actually a pretty small target. While that may sound crazy, it’s really not so crazy, just crazy smart.

It’s a niche of early adopters that are always first to the table to embrace new forms of content and storytelling, and the idea of crafting content to those people makes a lot of sense. If the early adopters come, inevitably they bring the rest of the people with them.

Chris described his target audience in great detail. He said the company is driven by this desire to “feed” a specific audience (the brand’s mantra is “Feed Your Feed”) and this can be seen throughout the fabric of Great Big Story.

He defined a small segment: 25-35 year olds, work in creative jobs, consider themselves to be an influencer, and even the type of person their boss might look to in order to understand the younger generation, and typically they live in a big city and are constantly on their phone.

Great Big Story has four overarching topics each video will fall under: Frontiers, Flavors, Planet Earth, and The Human Condition. Those topics, Chris explains, were chosen not because they are cool, but rather “Because we know they are active ever green conversations on social media.” Everything made has a social profile and a destination, giving it purpose.”

Chris revealed that there was a clear thread of eccentric film styles they were going to use in how they were produced, not just because the production value matters, but because, “our team is obsessed with film makers.”

He showed the audience one of the videos and discussed the completion rate, of 83%, which by benchmark standards is way above the norm. The point was not to tout how well his team’s content was performing, but to show that an important insight was deduced.

A video doesn’t have to be only 30 seconds to hold the attention of an audience (like statistics might tell you), and if one puts care into the details, you will find very enthusiastic people who want to consume it. This teaches us that choosing the right KPIs for your platform or website is vital because looking at those can inform your future content creation and strategy.

The content was created with mobile in mind, everything from the big headlines to the vibrant pictures and even the cinemagraphs (like GIFs, but better). A big component of the distribution and product strategy is social distribution. The idea that news is consumed through social sites rather than direct traffic made it clear that becoming ingrained in those platforms, with a dedicated fan base, was important.

Khalil Jetha, Director of Audience Intelligence at Great Big Story, was an important ingredient in making this successful social video platform. Khalil informed us that finding the audience required a specific strategy to reach them.

Very much a data and numbers guy, Khalil stressed the importance of measuring each piece of content that goes out. “Each video is an evangelist for your brand, which means you have to understand the content and the parts that go into making it.”

He went on to provide the ways in which one can make every video an evangelist: 1. Know the content 2. Know the audience 3. Know the context (what their consuming) 4. Know the news cycle (what makes the content pertinent to your audience based on the news).

One needs to also know the context of consumption, therefore they are utilizing the greatest advantage they have, targeting specifically, with the use of social media. A tip Khalil offers is that you should use the context of the platform to analyze the data, think about the algorithmic pattern that platform uses.

Khalil said, “You can’t depend upon what someone’s interests are to determine their ability to like or consume your media.” Just because you have a tennis video, doesn’t mean targeting people who like tennis will work. When you target the right type of person, if that person is any expert in the field, their interaction might be surprisingly low. The key is to look at where the related story is and draw conclusions about related interests, even second degree interests, go after those.

In the first 100 days there were 25 million views per week, the average person they were reaching was 25, virtually evenly skewed male to female. The average person consumed 10 minutes per week, in 2-3 minute sessions. The majority of the traffic is returning visitors, and the traffic sources are mainly organic and referral.

When asked about how the company did so well right after launch, Chris said the following, which sums up why is case is so powerful to marketers. Chris answered, “In theory it’s all because of the content, it feels special and speaks to a curious audience, but we have a smart innovative strategy to get content to the people we think will enjoy it.”

Not only does Great Big Story have a smart concept at it’s core, but after understanding how data rooted their decisions, at each juncture in the conceptualization, provided invaluable lessons, the answer is clear.

In almost every inch of reasoning and strategy behind each action and decision taken by the men who run Great Big Story, a valuable lesson for marketers was provided. I believe we have a disruptor in our midst.

Article Written By: Amanda Lehrer