Arrows up
Credit: Image by Thinkstock
Upworthy, the digitally native media outlet banking on socially-shareable stories, naturally relies on its social presence for traffic.

"I think in general we subscribe to what we sort of call 'The Little Mermaid' strategy... We want to be where the people are," explained co-founder and chief executive Eli Pariser speaking at FT Digital Media today.

And while the number of people who have liked Upworthy's Facebook page currently stands at 7.5 million, with the outlet is growing its presence on Twitter and YouTube, there's one perhaps unexpected platform Pariser highlighted in Upworthy's startegy: email.

"Email is viral media too," he said.

But he is aware, as with everyone working in the media industry today, that traffic from social networks is unpredictable and "the platform God giveth and the platform God taketh away".

Pariser said that platforms will eventually become very good at fulfilling roles traditionally falling under the remit of media outlets, such as surfacing facts, distributing content, and monetisation.

So what's left is storytelling, and Upworthy aims to to tell compelling stories about social issues in a way that's emotional and fun but which also deals with important issues.

And stories which trend are extremes – entertaining or trivial at one end, important but sometimes dry at the other.

Upworthy aims to be somewhere in the middle, as millennials have a "deep thirst for media that helps people lead purposeful lives", said Pariser.

"We have the deepest respect and appreciation for investigative journalists," he said, but added that Upworthy's aim was to figure out ways to make an important news story or government policy decisions more engaging to a large number of people.

Upworthy recently hired Amy O'Leary, formerly of the New York Times and This American Life, as its new editorial director.

O'Leary wrote when she joined Upworthy in January that "the world needs as much attention as possible on the stories that matter most.

"Whether that’s climate change, income inequality, health or immigration, I’ve always found the greatest challenge in journalism has been figuring out how to make those kinds of stories which some people might glaze over as compelling as when the next Beyonce album drops," she continued.

Pariser said the view she brings to Upworthy is that storytelling is both an art and a skill – and that data can be used in sophisticated ways to make storytelling better.

"Let's not wait for people to come to us, let's go to where the people are", said Pariser.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).