Last year, Group Nine Media, a holding company that owns publications including NowThis and Thrillist, created 23 360-degree videos on Facebook for the VR headset Samsung Gear 360, racking up 161 million views in five months.
It was the most popular brand campaign on Facebook in 2017.
But will Group Nine be able to replicate that success, since Facebook will start prioritizing content from friends and family on its news feed?
Group Nine Chief Insights Officer Ashish Patel isn’t concerned. Patel has weathered years of Facebook algorithm changes.
He used to be publisher of NowThis, which published solely on social media and was acquired by Group Nine last year. Before that, he was head of social media at Vice.
Patel predicts Facebook’s most recent news feed advertorial content shared by a user’s friends and family will insulate the publisher from reach declines.
“We are always focused on creating content that’s shareable, and that share is an emotional action,” he said.
The Samsung Gear 360 campaign succeeded because Patel’s team knew how to distribute content effectively. Here are three tips Patel thinks will survive in the era of the new news feed.
1. Focus On The Band, Not The Rock Star
“Instead of going viral, focus on the bottom-performing content,” Patel said. Too many publishers and brands aim for the equivalent of the Oreo “Dunk in the Dark” tweet. But Oreo’s tweet bucked trends and defied normal algorithmic rules, making it incredibly hard to replicate.
“Anytime we had a viral hit, there were some external conditions we couldn’t control,” Patel said.
Instead, he tries to improve the performance of the bottom quartile of content by “deeply understanding the distribution algorithms on platforms and what signals they are trying to read.”
In the case of the Samsung campaign, the brand’s willingness to produce 23 videos allowed GroupNine Media to produce a body of content that performed strongly across the board – not 22 duds in search of a single viral piece of content.
2. Use Editorial Hits To Inspire Branded Content
GroupNine Media looks at what content performs best against the marketer’s target audience before crafting branded content.
In the case of Samsung Gear 360, the team looked for examples of highly visual content that skewed toward a male audience. The makeup artist Mimi Choi, whose surreal skills give people six eyes or tiger faces, fit the bill. Her original video on the NowThis entertainment channel exceeded median watch time for the channel by a factor of 3.9.
Because the previous video resonated so strongly with the NowThis audience, the team shot another video featuring Choi’s work using a 360-degree camera. The video ended up being a top performer, accruing 7.4 million views, more than 4,000 shares and 1,700 comments.
3. Retarget Based On Content History
Fans of the original Mimi Choi video would probably be interested in seeing the 360-degree version, making it a natural place for GroupNine Media to retarget audiences and make sure the right people see content that would appeal to them.
But GroupNine likes to take its content retargeting a step further. If someone watches three videos of basketball superstars, are they interested in sports, or in a broader group like “living sports legends”? The GroupNine team looks for patterns that signal deeper interest in different types of content.
Content retargeting is also valuable strategically because it uses data that can only come from a publisher. “We can understand exactly what their target audience has engaged with in the past,” Patel said.
Of course, if Facebook’s news feed impacts Patel’s content strategy more than he anticipated, his team analyzes content performance on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. And it’s eyeing emerging platforms like Musical.ly and Pluto TV.
GroupNine will stay relevant because it helps brands get attention in a crowded media landscape, Patel said.
“We are in a war for attention,” he said. “If you are not in the feed, and are not telling [customers] the right stories in the right places, you are at risk of losing their attention.”