Upworthy on stage

Upworthy’s Real Mission with Eli Pariser


Eli Pariser took to the stage in his first big appearance since Upworthy has blown up on the scene.

His mission: to cast a light on important content – content that battles what we believe important content to be (dry, boring, depressing and only trend based) by making it emotional, compelling, and hopeful.

Despite the flack Upworthy gets due to it’s headlines, they know it’s not headlines that make a piece of content go viral. Yes. People will click on it. But it’s impossible for something to go viral if people don’t love what you’re posting.


Focus on quantity over quality

In December 2013, Upworthy only posted 246 articles compared to Yahoo’s 130,000 but yet still got over 60 million visits. They employee full time curators that are charged with only posting content that speaks to them which could end up being only 5-6 things per week. This seems impossibly little in terms of the content churn we face on a daily basis, but yet it seems to be having a great effect.

One of the important lessons they learned, was to listen smart. Often brands and news organizations are afraid of user feedback. They imagine YouTube-type trolls as being the driving force of the community. This leads to organizations ignoring user feedback and then they only look at behavioral triggers to draw overly broad conclusions such as lack of clicking means the whole topic isn’t of interest to people. This is not true.


People have multiple selves

Good news organizations (and brands) bring together aspirational and behavioral signals to balance their content. Both need to be treated equally and both need to be fed. This includes looking at what people do (share, click, create community action) and what they say.

Is the content both compelling and substantive? The answer should be yes. And importantly, Upworthy is looking at a new engagement metric they’re calling attention minutes and now is going to the community to get their feedback on what they want the future of Upworthy to be.

By reading behavior in the context of aspirations, Upworthy now look at content in terms of “Am I doing it right?” and not “Are they interested?”

The final learning, Eli left us with: People actually do care about the important stuff. By looking at the depth and breadth of the content Upworthy has covered in the last 12 months ranging from mental health to standards of beauty, environment to income equality, it’s extremely encouraging. They want to go deeper but it’s a start.