Great Big Story Teaches Us How To Build Successful Content Strategies Based On 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 from social media, successfully

Great Big Story Company Image
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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 baby, Great Big Story. A social video company, that lives on feeds, one rapidly taking the world by storm. The company was started a mere 4 months ago and is already being met with embracing arms from the target audience. I was more than intrigued by the end of the presentation and itching to hit the website.

Chris describes the taste of the brand as, while fundamentally optimistic, not “sunshine pumpers”.  And, of the content, he painted a clear picture, “We love things that make you think, things that are unexpected.”

Great Big Story was built on two very smart insights, clear opportunities to make something great to fill a void. Firstly, Chris identified that there is a huge audience of people getting their news from social platforms, and opting not to go to direct news sources.

“There is entire generation of 25-35 year olds who do not traditionally go to regular media outlets for their news,” said Chris.

Secondly, they conjectured that they could put a team together that could develop something that wasn’t being offered, but was wanted: a news source, full of quality content, content which would fit into news this audience was already consuming like a puzzle piece, while providing nuanced, well produced, and underivative content.

Stories on Great Big Story
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“Everybody gets compared to Vice and BuzzFeed because they’re the big digital-native companies,” Berend said. “We feel that there is a huge audience out there that neither of those brands are connecting with.” (DigiDay Article)

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. As we have seen, historically what performs the best is the content that was intended for a very specific thing or person because of the connection it creates.

It’s a niche of early adopters that are always first to the table to embrace your content, and the idea of catering content to those people makes a lot of sense. If the early adopters come, inevitably they bring rest of the people crowding around, asking what’s going on.

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

Feed Your Feed is Great Big Story's Mantra
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He defined a small segment: 25-35 year olds, work in creative jobs or are creative in their second jobs, an influencer, the person their boss might look to in order to understand the younger generation, lives in a big city and lives on their phone.

Great Big Story has 4 overarching topics each piece of content/video will fall under: Frontiers, Flavors, Planet Earth and The Human Condition. Those topics, he 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.

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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.”

In looking at the tastes of film makers amongst the target audience liked, they choose Wes Anderson to stylize many of the pieces after. Yet another smart move done that was rooted in data and seeding social insights about the audience.

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 content was performing but to show that an important insight was deduced. A video doesn’t have to be only 30 seconds hold the attention of the audience (like statistics might tell you). This teaches us that choosing the right KPI’s for your platform or website is vital because looking at those can inform your future content creation and strategy.

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The way content is distributed is another key driver in the future success of the business, again insight about the audience.

The content was created with mobile in mind, everything from the big headlines to the big 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 being consumed through social sites rather than direct traffic made it clear that becoming ingrained in those platforms, with a dedicated fan base, was important.

Great Big Story launched heavily on Facebook first so they could connect deeply with the audience. They use Instagram to show a great deal of behind the scenes and how stuff works type content. The brand also utilizes Snapchat via CNN’s Snapchat Discover Channel to deliver content to users. And of course, there is the website, (which you should check out) and an app.

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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.

4427429007Very 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 they are 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 brought up what I found to be a hugely valuable insight. 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.”Great Big Story (5)My burning question after that was, how can I reach my intended audience, which I believed to be so well segmented utilizing social, if it’s not targeting their interests. Khalil answered, saying the key is to look at where the related story is and draw conclusions about related interests, even second degree interests, go after those.

The amazing results after launch were not surprising, after proving the strong data supported the business and creative decisions. 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 consuming 10 minutes per week, in 2-3 minute sessions. The majority of the traffic is returning visitors, 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.”

Courtesy of GBS

While I would caution people that the content is not for the faint of heart, not a place that will give you mind-numbing stupidity in it’s content (thankfully)  and not for those who aren’t at least a little weird…I implore everyone to check out GBS! Get weird! Know about oddities of the world. Currently loving this video:

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.

Please find my original article, intended for Social Media WeekHow Great Big Story Built a Successful Content Strategy Informed by Data – Social Media Week.


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