Screenshot from UsVsTh3m.com
UsVsTh3m almost didn't publish its wildly popular How much are you hated by the Daily Mail? quiz, Trinity Mirror product director Malcolm Coles revealed at the Guardian's Changing Media Summit this week.
"We thought it was a 'media bubble' thing and real people probably wouldn't care," said Coles.
"But one of the principles we had with UsVsTh3m was to do something even if we thought it wouldn't work, just to try it."
The simple quiz, which was launched the day after the Daily Mail ran an article describing Ed Miliband's father as "a man who hated Britain", asks questions such as ' 'do you have a job?', 'have you ever voted Labour?' and 'do you think it was all a lot better in the old days?'
The quiz has since received more than 1.4 million unique pageviews, according to Trinity Mirror's own figures from Google Analytics, and been shared widely on Twitter and Facebook.
"The point of the experiment there was 'can we make socially shareable content?'", he added, "and it showed that we could."
UsVsTh3m started life as a "three-month experiment" for Trinity Mirror in May 2013.
Taking note of the trend towards more visual online content and the rise of mobile, the outlet decided to launch a "mobile-first streamed publication" featuring news and "personality based quizzes".
It is perhaps its quizzes that UsVsTh3m are best known for, thanks to their humorous take on current events and their predilection for revealing something about the user, making them highly shareable.
Aside from the success of the Daily Mail quiz, UsVsTh3m's other notable quizzes include the North-o-Meter, which asks questions to determine how 'northern' a user is.
Four million people played the quiz, and it was shared so many times on Facebook the social platform temporarily banned it for "looking like a virus," said Coles.
Screenshot from UsVsTh3m.com
He also revealed that the initial team behind UsVsTh3m, comprising Martin Belam, Rob Manuel, Tom Phillips and David Stephenson, only met for for the first time on 28 May 2013 – the day the platform launched.
Key to the success of UsVsTh3m, Coles said, is that Trinity Mirror "hired the right people, put them in the right environment and trusted them to do the right thing".
He also pinpointed a few other key tips for digital innovation. Here they are below:
Launch the "minimum viable product"
Once the seed of an idea is planted for a new and innovative app, tool or platform, news outlets should aim to get it up and running as soon as possible in order to start learning from it, said Coles.
"The minimum viable product is basically you launch whatever is necessary to get by," said Coles.
"[With UsVsTh3m], we couldn't spend months researching names and doing focus groups.
"It seemed more important to build something, get it live and then decide what worked and what didn't work."
He added that even the name UsVsTh3m "was quite throwaway".
Aside from the founding principle of publishing both original and curated content, "we use a '3' in the name because all the good [Twitter] names had already been taken," he said.
Think about mobile
Mobile-first "was an important thing" for the concept behind UsVsTh3m, said Coles.
"Everything you do should be designed to work properly and very well on mobile," said Coles.Three-quarters of social traffic to Trinity Mirror websites is on mobileMalcolm Coles, Trinity Mirror
He explained that at one point 20,000 people were playing the North-o-Meter quiz at a time on a Saturday night, and more than 80 per cent of them were on a mobile phone.
"In this day and age if you don't think mobile, you're throwing away more than half you audience," he said.
Shareability vs clickability
This was another thing Trinity Mirror attempted to "grapple with," said Coles
"Clickability is the idea people will see something, click it, go to it and do it. Shareability is about the idea that they will then tell their friends about it.
"We learned very early on that if you have swearing in a link, nobody would share it on Facebook in case their mum saw it."
The shareability factor of UsVsTh3m's content had also allowed it's audience to grow organically without too much extra promotion, he added.
"The advantage of making socially shareable games is you have an audience to do that for you."
Think about Facebook
UsVsTh3m gets "huge amounts" of traffic from Facebook, said Coles, adding: "we think a lot about how our content will look and how it will work on Facebook.".
When thinking about Facebook, which announced 24 million UK users per day in August 2013, it is also important to take mobile usage into account, he added.
"Three quarters of social traffic to Trinity Mirror websites is on mobile," he explained, adding that most people now use mobile apps to access social media as opposed to desktop computers.
However, Coles also pointed out the potential risk of over-reliance on traffic from Facebook, noting that this audience was "at the whims of Facebook changing the news feed [algorithm]".
Figures from HowManyShares.com of the North-o-Meter, correct as of noon, November 12, 2013. UsVsTh3m have since changed the URLs for their quizzes, affecting the social sharing stats.
Use time frames to measure success
"One of the common principles we had in the beginning was the idea of time frames," said Coles, adding that if UsVsTh3m had not hit its targets within its first three months, it would have closed down.
He noted that Trinity Mirror had also taken this three-month approach to subsequent launches such as People.co.uk – a site launched under the People brand – which closed when it failed to attract significant traffic.
Trinity Mirror's data journalism site ampp3d, which launched in December 2013, "has been more successful so we've carried on," said Coles.
"If you don't have a success or fail criteria when you start these projects it's very hard to know whether they're actually doing well at any point and whether you should carry on."