How we built the world's 8th most-watched video publisher in the US in a year

We launched INSIDER a little over a year ago.

Now our videos are viewed 1.6 billion times each month.

This helped make Business Insider Inc., our parent company, a top ten most-watched video publisher in the entire world, according to rankings from Tubular. (If INSIDER were ranked separately, it would come in 8th.)

Back in the fall of 2015, it took us 42 days to get our first Facebook page to 100,000 likes.

Today, we have 23 million likes across 12 pages.

We have another 825,000 followers across eight Instagram accounts.

5 million people visited our website last month, just four months after it launched in May.

I’m floored by these numbers.

I see them as validation that what we are building is for the long term.

How’d we do it? Not by being perfect. We’ve made plenty of mistakes to learn from.

But I do think there were at least five things we did right over the past year that helped us get to where we are:

We went in NOT knowing what we were.

When we launched INSIDER back in August 2015, we didn’t know exactly what we were. The only two things we knew were that we were a “general interest publication” and that, for a while, we wanted to publish our stories on social media platforms rather than on a web site.

This ambiguity ended up being great. It allowed us to experiment with all sorts of different story types and topics.

Not everything worked: breaking news, for example, did not catch on. We also struggled with politics. Some videos took off, however.

In December 2015, we felt that we had experimented enough that we could finally decide what we were going to be going forward.

We wanted to tell stories our readers love, and one metric for that is popularity. So our first step was to look at our 80 most popular videos. We categorized them by topic.

Then we looked at those topics and considered which we wanted to tell stories about.

Some of our most popular videos were on topics that didn’t feel right for our newsroom. Yes, videos about war machines, violent crime, politics, and news of the weird, were popular.

But they didn’t move us.

We decided that we would be a publication for, by, and about people who believe life is an adventure. We would tell stories for people who try new foods, travel the planet, and fight for what’s right.

From there, our audience exploded.

To start, we focused on one thing.

INSIDER is currently thriving on three major platforms: Facebook, Instagram, and the Web.

But that’s only happening because we started with one.

For the first nine months of INSIDER, we only made one kind of story: videos for social media. We made more than 2,500 videos before we ever had to think about making another kind of story.

This allowed us to obsess over the format. We learned what kind of visuals work (mesmerising images of things coming into form), and what don’t (obviously choreographed stunts).

When we finally launched on the Web in May, we were ready to split our focus.

Julie Zeveloff

We promoted people quickly.

The senior leadership of INSIDER is made up of longtime Business Insider veterans. Their years of experience in digital storytelling is a key reason for our early success.

But many of today’s INSIDER staff is made up of former interns that we hired into full-time positions.

Several of our managers are in their first management roles ever. We’ve given them big responsibilities, and they have responded to the challenge with infectious enthusiasm, energy, and creativity.

We picked our most important metric — and measured it daily.

Early on at INSIDER, we decided our most important metric was the number of followers we have on social platforms. A follow meant that someone liked a story of ours so much that they hit a button to get more like it from us.

So every morning at 10 AM, we write on a big white board in the newsroom the number of followers we have on each of our most important platforms, how much that number grew in the past 24 hours, and how much further we have to go until we reach even bigger milestones.

We hired positive people.

Since the beginning, my partner in building INSIDER has been Julie Zeveloff West. During our first meeting together way back in Spring 2015, we spontaneously gave each other a high five. Right after, we made our first policy: INSIDER would only hire the kind of people who will give unironic high-fives. No one jaded need apply — we would only hire positive, can-do people.

It was our best decision yet. INSIDER has a great mission and we tell amazing stories, but the real reason it’s a delight to come into the office every day is our people. They don’t whine. They adapt. And, when we reach big milestones, they know how to celebrate.

When INSIDER reached one million likes on Facebook in January, we all went out for karaoke. When we reached 10 million in May, we went to a Beyoncé dance class.

Everybody slayed.

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