This is the final in a series of articles on how news for social is produced – take a look at how this is done at Vox, Fusion and BuzzFeed.
As most publishers are still trying to figure out online video and the formats that work for them, four year-old NowThis seems to have already found a recipe for success.
The outlet hit one billion monthly video views for the first time in January 2016, a number that stood at 600 million in October 2015. When managing editor Versha Sharma joined the company in July 2014, NowThis was just short of reaching one million viewers.
"I'm paraphrasing Sarah [Frank, editor of NowThis], and she says that killing the homepage was the best thing we've ever done," Sharma told Journalism.co.uk, referring to the company's decision to abandon its website in February 2015.
"It allowed us to go all-in on the distributed content strategy, whereas before we were taking one story and thinking 'okay, we're going to fit this into as many different platforms as we can'.
"Now, we start with understanding what the audience wants on a platform and build our story selection from there."
The NowThis newsroom is formed of five editorial teams, which are broken up according to platform and vertical. There are three teams dedicated to producing Facebook video, one of which is dealing with the main NowThis Facebook page, one focuses on the NowThis Election account and one takes care of NowThis Entertainment.
Twitter video is primarily produced by the real time or trending news team, and content for Snapchat, Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Weibo and WeChat is created by the emerging media team.
Each of the 38 NowThis staff have the role of producer, and a team will be made up of four or five people, led by a senior producer.
Every day starts off with a morning pitch meeting, where everyone shares what they're working on that day before the six senior producers decide what stories to do and which platforms they should go on.
If a big story is happening that day, such as the first primary caucus of the US election, it is their job to establish what it should look like on the nine different platforms.
"It falls to the strength of each producer to understand the reason why that platform was created in the first place.
"We know that Snapchat was made for people to share funny photos and create a sort of artwork on-the-go with their friends, so we understand that our snaps need to have a little more of an artistic look than our Facebook video does, for example," said Sharma.
Screenshot of today's NowThis Snapchat edition
To edit video, the producers use software such as Adobe Creative Suite, but they also have a customised content management system (CMS) at their disposal called Switchboard, which allows both editing and direct distribution to platforms.
Switchboard was built with a focus on speed – aside from giving staff an overview of ideal length for a video, what platform it should go on and offer different correlations between elements such as sound and text, it also has a feature for analysing similar footage previously uploaded to give the producer an idea of the format used in the past.
Through this CMS, content can be published directly to Twitter through the platform's API, but also distributed to other video curation and aggregation platforms and apps, such as Verizon's Go90 or the Huffington Post.
NowThis produces approximately 60 videos a day across the nine platforms, which cover both breaking or trending news and explainer journalism.
The type of stories that appeal most to NowThis's audience are those covering social justice issues, such as criminal justice reform, police brutality, marriage equality, and race and gender issues.
As part of its US election coverage, the outlet interviewed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in August, and back in January, it produced a cross-platform series of video interviews with US vice-president Joe Biden.
"Whether we cover trending and breaking news, or producing explainers, we always make sure we cover the topics that we know are important to our viewers, especially presidential candidates' positions on these issues," Sharma said.
Facebook videos are all under two minutes in duration and usually, the "sweet spot" is the 60 to 90-second mark, Sharma said, although explainers are sometimes only 30 seconds long. Other formats include 30 to 60-second packages for Twitter, 10-second ones for Snapchat, 15-second videos for Instagram and six-second Vines.
"The producers on the emerging media team take the larger cuts that we do for Facebook and Twitter and adapt them to the other platforms.
"But you'll never see the exact same piece of content on Facebook that you see on Vine, because it involves a little more creative production with Adobe Photoshop and other Creative Suite programs to add another layer to it and make it more appropriate for that platform."
A separate social insights team is in charge of monitoring how the videos perform by looking at analytics, and their job is to be in a "constant feedback loop" with producers and editors to inform them about performance but also to keep track of conversations and topics that are trending on social media.
Sharma explained the team "looks at shares as the most important tool of engagement", while keeping in mind the share of a Facebook video for example, cannot be counted in the same way as one on Snapchat.
"On Snapchat, we look at the number of screenshots people are taking of our content and which stories they're doing that for.
"You could say we catalogue them by saying 'ok, people have really liked this piece of art' or 'they have really liked this particular story'.
"We get a lot of positive feedback about the topics that our Snapchat users want us to cover and we generally follow up with an explainer video on that within 48 hours," she added.
NowThis producers are "invested in how their video performs" and they are encouraged to build a relationship with the audience on the platform they're working on. This includes not only reading the comments, messages and Twitter replies, but also regularly responding to them.
"If we publish a video on Facebook about Hillary Clinton's plan to reduce student debt, and we see that people are commenting asking about a different aspect, we would respond either to let them know that a follow-up video is coming or we would reply with more information.
"We have a very young, progressive office, so we are proud that our audience basically reflects our newsroom, as it allows us to have an authentic editorial voice across all our platforms," Sharma said.
- Want to find out more about NowThis's strategy for social video distribution? Ashish Patel, senior vice president of social media at NowThis Media, will be speaking at our upcoming news:rewired 'video focus' event on 16 March in London.
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