Last month, I attended the 2017 IAB Video Symposium in New York City. There were eight main stage speakers, but the one that stole the show was Adam Shlachter, the Chief Marketing Officer for Advertising & Creative Services at Group Nine Media. Yep, this is the same media and entertainment property that stole the show at the 2017 Digital Content NewFronts in May.

Who are these guys and gals? Well, Group Nine Media is a digital media holding company comprising The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist, and Seeker. These four brands and former brand SourceFed merged to form Group Nine Media in October 2016. And video marketers in a wide variety of content genres are going to want to know a whole lot more about the company and its brands. Why? Well, check out what this start-up has accomplished so far.

Group Nine and the Art of Audience Segmentation

Group Nine’s 90 unique social properties have uploaded a total of 107,000 videos to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. These videos have a total of almost 68.9 billion (with a “b”) views. During the month of October 2017 alone, Group Nine’s videos had more than 3.2 billion views.

Now, 1.2 billion of these views in October were on The Dodo, which was launched in January 2014 and crafts “emotional and entertaining stories about animals.” Another 607 million views that month were on NowThis, which was launched in September 2012 and “creates news content for the social, mobile generation by informing its audience about what’s happening and important in the world right now.” In addition, 389 million views were on NowThis Politics, 184 million views were on NowThis Entertainment, 155 million views were on NowThis Future, 149 million viewers were on Thrillist, 89.7 million views were on NowThis Her, 86.7 million views were on Dodo Impact, 46.6 million views were on Seeker, and 35.9 million views were on Philip DeFranco. The DoDo’s most watched video in October 2017 was this heartbreaking (but ultimately feel good) video, which was posted to its Facebook Page on the 30th of the month. To date, it has generated a staggering 90M views (59M in the first 7 days), and a hugely impressive 1.3M shares.

Have you spotted the pattern yet? In case it isn’t obvious, Group Nine hasn’t created a small handful of “general interest” destinations around each of its brands. Instead, the media and entertainment property has created or collected 90 “special interest” destinations around different genres. That’s right, they aren’t fragmenting their brands; they’re segmenting them.

The critical data above indicates that Group Nine’s strategy is working overtime for its audiences. Why? Because it takes the decade-old YouTube strategy of creating playlists to organize your content into sets of videos to a whole new level. Creating segmented YouTube channels and Facebook pages as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts not only makes it easier for audiences with different interests to find themed content in a particular genre, it also increases engagement, the number of videos a viewer watches, and subscriptions.

Group Nine’s strategy also works for advertisers. What YouTube once called interest-based advertising and now calls “personalized advertising” improves advertising relevance for users and increases ROI for advertisers. Because it works by employing online user data to target users with more relevant advertising content, it can provide an improved experience for users and advertisers alike.

Special Interest Publishing

Now, this might have sounded counter-intuitive to many of the top publishers and brands that also attended the IAB Video Symposium at the Convene meeting space near Grand Central station. But, as the former director of marketing at PC/Computing magazine from 1988 to 1991 and the former director of corporate communications at Ziff-Davis Publishing Company from 1991 to 1999, I recognized Group Nine’s strategy as the modern social video equivalent of special interest publishing.

For example, when we launched PC/Computing in August 1988, many brands and advertisers questioned why Ziff-Davis was publishing its third PC publication. So, I needed to learn how to explain that our sister title, PC Magazine, was targeted at a segment of technically sophisticated buyers called “brand specifiers,” our sister publication, PC Week, was targeted a decision-makers in IT departments at large sites called “volume buyers,” and PC/Computing, my title, was targeted at entrepreneurial business buyers called “PC champions.” To attract these different, but valuable segments of the market, PC Magazine featured product reviews, PC Week featured industry news, and PC/Computing featured how-to articles. Now, there was some overlap in readership, but not as much as you might think.

That’s why Shlachter’s speech resonated with me. The title of his presentation was: “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: How Data and Platform Nuances are Fundamental for Content Creation.” According to the CMO of Group Nine Media, what matters now is where audiences are spending time. Platforms own distribution. Brands own hearts and minds. At Group Nine, “we dream in video,” said Shlachter.

With its brands The Dodo, NowThis, Thrillist, and Seeker, Group Nine Media reaches 81% of U.S. 21-29 years old according to Shlachter. He said, “You want to find the content appropriate for the right platform, the right person, the right mindset, and at the right moment.”

Shlachter’s advice is to reach users across time instead of one-off, optimizing editorial and every story, and finding how to say it visually to drive shares and engagement. He recommends to test everything, see what works better in terms of headlines, aspect ratio, sound on/off, etc. and to get feedback immediately to raise the floor. “Data is just people in disguise,” said Shlachter – people are a mosaic of lots of data points. He added, “Context is king.” You need to fit into the consumers’ world.

Shlachter concluded, “The rules keep changing, the platforms keep changing, the technology keeps on changing. Yet, we have to stay on top of the platforms to keep on producing content that is compelling, test relentlessly, and listen to the data to be pointed in the right direction.”

For video marketers who are still skeptical of this social video strategy, let me close with these two data points:

  • The Dodo ranked #10 in Tubular’s leaderboard of overall creators by most views – globally, cross-platform, across all genres in October 2017.
  • Group Nine Media ranked #9 among all media and entertainment properties by views – globally, cross-platform, across all genres in October 2017.

Not bad, not bad at all for an animal brand that was launched in January 2014 and a digital-first media company that was created in October 2016.