It was the year 2015, when we saw an opportunity in the content space — the process of content consumption had undergone a sea change from what it was a couple decades ago.
Back then, a handful of traditional news outlets dominated the media industry and people knew where to look for the latest scoop on the Internet. Powerhouses like CNN, BBC, Guardian and the likes had immense power in their hands to make or break the spread of a particular news item, in whatever way they wanted.
The Era of Content Decentralisation and ‘Snackable’ Formats
Fast forward to the decade of Facebook — content no longer remained centralised. The power came in the hands of people — us. Anyone could post anything on their Newsfeed and it could potentially spread like wild-fire. Moreover, people are more likely to read an article that is recommended by someone from your friend circle as compared to a third party outlet that you have no direct relation to. Furthermore, Facebook began to consolidate entire industries to make people spend more time on its platform, and worked on making the newsfeed experience stellar and personalised for every user. As a result, direct traffic to the erstwhile top media publications took a huge hit as people relied even more on their Facebook newsfeed to consume new content.
Another paradigm shift in the content industry took place when websites like Buzzfeed emerged and took on readers with a whole new format — listicles. Listicles were meant to condense an otherwise long article into a series of short points, with the aim of making it easier for users to read stories. This also gave rise to titles like ’10 Things…’, ‘You Won’t Believe…’, ‘And, This Happened…’ etc, to entice the users to click even more on such snackable content in their newsfeed. As you’d notice, these titles are clickbait of course, but they were all over on Facebook back in the day. The more curiosity you are able to generate while writing such titles, the more your click-rate would be.
The era of branded content started fading away, and people started ignoring the content source itself. The focus shifted entirely onto the content quality and distribution.
This was the opportunity we saw. And we jumped right in.
The Ozock.com Model
We had a simple plan up for execution:
- Crack content distribution first — make sure we have the means to make an article go viral.
- Write content — of course, that’s what it is all about. But the thing to note here is, that this came in second.
- Get advertisers — as every website on the Internet would do for revenue.
Content Distribution: the making of SocialStar.io
In line with our strategy, we started off by building what would later become one of the biggest Social Influencer Networks revolving around Facebook , called SocialStar. We spent the first few months cracking deals with some of the biggest Influencers and pages on Facebook, to ensure we have the distribution ready to roll. This was indeed the toughest part of our business model as we had a lot of competitors already operating in this space since the past 5 years. One of the reasons why we succeeded in acquiring a large part of the market was — our agility in responding to client requests. There were times when we would just crave for a night’s worth of sleep, but the nightmares of losing our clients wouldn’t let us have it. And it did pay off well.
A piece of advice here: Your clients are the most crucial part of your business. Treat them like family. It’s like you’re in this together, a two-way relationship that is not just about the give and take of services and/or money. It involves emotions as well. And that’s the tough part you need to understand. The sooner the better.
We succeeded in amassing a huge Influencer base onto the SocialStar platform within months of toil. The platform gave them access to thousands of articles they could share with their audience, and earn the following things in the process:
- Audience engagement: Influencers need tons of quality content to share with their user base every day to keep them engaged.
- Audience growth: As we focused on shareable content that had the potential to go viral — more the number of shares, more the reach, and thus, a growing fan base for the Influencer.
- Money(of course): We worked on a pay-per-click model, and paid the Influencers on every click that they drove for us.
We gamified the entire SocialStar platform to make Influencers share even more content than they would usually do. While it worked in our favour, but it did have its disadvantages, that include but aren’t limited to, spam.
Finally, this is what happened:
- Ozock.com ranked among the top 100 websites in the United States, and among the top 300 websites in the world as well. Given that there are more than 1B websites existing as of today, we stood among the top 0.000026%.
- Each and every eyeball in the US read at least one of our articles at least once, every month.
- We outperformed a majority of popular news outlets on the Internet in terms of viewership and rankings within a relatively short timeframe.
- Served over 1B+ impressions every month.
- Sprint towards $8M in annual revenue(2016).
Success is like pregnancy, Everybody congratulates you but nobody knows how many times you got fucked before you got there.
Ever heard of unhappy endings? Here’s why it went bust.
In the entire journey, including the strategy and execution of our business model, we didn’t realise one critical shortcoming: it all relied on a platform that we didn’t own, a platform that was too powerful to let anything thrive on it for free — Facebook.com.
By virtue of dealing directly with Facebook influencers/pages, we were essentially cutting the platform itself off from the equation. In essence, if Facebook were a private football field, we, that is a bunch of outsiders, were playing on it without paying rent or taking prior permission. Facebook had no incentive to let us thrive. It could in fact lose an opportunity cost of millions of advertising dollars if it let businesses like ours thrive.
Also, after the presidential election in the US in 2016, Facebook came under the radar owing to multiple legal claims in what became its biggest problem till date — fake news. The decentralisation of content distribution worked totally in favour of aggravating this problem as anyone could spread fake news without any authenticity checks at all.
Finally, in a probable knee-jerk reaction, Facebook pulled the plug in around Nov 2016, and we were out of business within a few seconds. Of course, we aren’t alone though. That moment was totally inexplicable.
But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
We eventually moved on. And up. Here’s what we learnt:
- Never thrive your business on a platform that you don’t own, especially if you don’t have a stake or a partnership with it.
- A business is made up of clients or users — make them believe in your product, and eventually, you.
- Keep up with the trends in your industry, and evolve. Evolution is the key here.
- The Pareto principle is actually true, but not during your growth phase. So, treat your clientele or users equally.
- Capitalise on the network effect — never judge a client by his contribution towards your revenue. Instead, look at the network he can bring to you.
It’s all about finding that one ‘Hell Yeah!’ moment at the end of it all, and making it persist sustainably.