Around 9am last Thursday, Megan regrammed a silly Instagram picture of these bottles of amusingly-named wine. This set off an insane chain of events that resulted in, five days later, 13 million people seeing this piece of content.
Put another way, the weekend before one of the most divisive presidential elections in US history, the robots that serve America our information decided that what 13 million of us really needed to see was a throw-away post about wine labels that said “FUCK” on them.
For me as a publisher, this was an insane content marketing story to watch unfold. Come with me on this journey as I unpack what it says about the media, the work of my editors, my company, and even the American election.
First, let’s talk about what this says about the work of my editors. It’s a little agonizing for everyone that a throw-away post Megan regrammed from her phone (thumbing just a few words and ?!?!?s) reached more people than all the rest of our content combined this year. Not only that, but it did so by many orders of magnitude. Let’s just bow our heads for a bit for all the effort that my editors (and editors everywhere!) put in to produce interesting, insightful, entertaining, or at least distracting content on the web… and how no matter how hard you work on stuff you think is important, it can be a piece of tossed-off fluff that goes crazy viral. Mad props to Megan for producing this post… sorry about all the hundreds of other posts that everyone ignores?
(…13 million people! Sorry, sorry. Let’s get back to the point here.)
Second, let’s talk about what this post did for my business. 13 million people saw the post, but here’s how that translated into numbers of real value to me:
- Since the post did not include a link to offbeathome.com, it garnered us almost no traffic. Of those 13 million people, only about 1000 of them a day found their way to offbeathome.com, which means traffic was up about 10%.
- Of those 13 million people, roughly 8000 of them followed Offbeat Home on Facebook — that’s a follower increase of 17%.
- Despite the fact that the post promoted a business (who has to be fucking STOKED!) right now, it was not a sponsored or monetized post in any way. Promoting businesses via advertising is how my business makes money, and this post earned my business exactly $0.00.
Now, the value to my business may be a long tail — the 10% increase in traffic may help me sell future ads on the website! The increase in Facebook followers may help to continue boosting traffic! (I’m doubtful, given engagement rates — but one can hope.) Maybe the increase in visibility will bring in new sponsors? One can be hopeful, but one can also be realistic and say… probably not. Ultimately, this post got my business a little exposure and engagement, but no dolla dolla bills.
And finally, what does this say about Facebook itself and the way its algorithm chooses to spread content? Well, I have some MAJOR FEELS about this issue… which feel especially relevant on election day. I did a 10 minute FB live video to ramble my thoughts:
The tl;dr: I am totally baffled, and a little bit unsettled by the robots here. I love you, algorithms… but I do not always understand you.
The success of this nugget of content suggests that I have a lot of thinking to do about my business model. What role does a .com website play in a world of third-party social media platforms that want to be content management systems? What kinds of placement should we be selling? If my business is helping other businesses reach my readers, what can I learn about where those readers are and what they’re looking for? These are big issues that a lot of publishers are thinking about right now… and it’s a good thing I like thinking about them, because when you work on the web… there is no final product. It’s constantly shifting, and you better genuinely enjoy shifting with it, because it never ends. Let’s do this!