lessons from Upworthy

Why is it that I always find something interesting in magazines while I’m flying? Reading the latest edition of the Renegade Collective (which I admit to finding interesting in all circumstances, not just when on a short, domestic flight with limited inflight entertainment), I came across an article on Upworthy.

In the article, Upworthy managing editor Sara Critchfield had what would seem to be excellent advice for those looking for an online audience:

  • people are passionate about important issues but you have to meet them where they are
  • it’s possible to be in the business of marketing ideas, not stories
  • the internet doesn’t need more content, just someone to curate it
  • packaging the content is, however, important, especially if great content isn’t getting infiltration and amplification
  • continue to go where the people are – be prepared to move
  • don’t keep the same way of presenting your content, test what works and change on the basis of the results
  • train your people in your language (in the case of Upworthy, Critchfield says that’s inclusivity)
  • it’s okay not to be neutral, just make a commitment to what’s actually true.

There were a lot of great quotes in the article but my favourite was perhaps this one: We have this principle – no great speeches to empty rooms. 

So what’s the message here for those of us involved in encouraging on-ground works via social media (or any community, anywhere, really)? All of the points raised by Critchfield are easily translatable to our situation.

  • There are people passionate about our topics (in this case, coordinated feral animal control). Find out where they are and go there.
  • It’s okay to focus on marketing the idea (again, coordinated control) rather than the individual stories or communication products that talk about. Don’t forget your overall message; it doesn’t matter if you’re running a series of workshops or a Facebook page.
  • Have a good hard think about whether you need to be the content creator. Let go.
  • If you look at it logically and you can see a plethora of information about your topic, is learning to curate and effectively disseminate that information a better use of your time? Probably yes.
  • Don’t stagnate. Learning is a lifelong process, after all. Apply that to everything. What was the only way yesterday is not necessarily the only way today.
  • Monitor. Evaluate. CHANGE.
  • What is your language? Train yourself. Train your team. (If you don’t have the authority to implement a teamwide language, be the example. It is possible to influence behaviour, just be damn sure you know why you are doing it, that your motives are good and you aren’t really set on world domination. Unless you’re me and you’re pretty sure the universe would be much better off with more coffee plantations and vineyards.)
  • Make sure your message is true. Do you have the scientific basis for whatever you’re promoting? Yes? Well, document that – it’s part of your content packaging.

On a slightly related note, this flight has been a good reminder that not speaking the same language doesn’t mean you cannot communicate. My seat mates and I quite nicely worked out that yes, that’s sugar for coffee (not salt as they feared), yes they did want the choccie bikkie I wasn’t going to eat but they too had no interest the bread rolls. Sweet.


Renegade Collective, Issue 10, The Messenger Group, 2013, “The internet is more than imitations of wrecking ball”, article author Natasha Guterres, pp42-45



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