PolicyMic doesn’t sound like a news website that could work. It peddles news and opinion pieces on serious topics, like North Carolina’s voter ID laws, anti-gay policy in Russia, or Republican opposition to immigration reform – all targeted at Millennials, who are supposed to be more interested in pop culture, cat listicles, and themselves. But the fledgling media startup claims that it sees 7 million unique visitors a month, an impressive number for a two-year-old site that covers such furrowed-brow fare.
PolicyMic was founded in 2011 by childhood friends Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, both of whom have an interest in politics and media. Based in New York, it shares a similar ethos to BuzzFeed and Upworthy, both of which have mastered the art of traffic generation through social sharing. Indeed, much of its traffic success can be attributed to its ability to make its content go viral, a combination of science and art that PolicyMic has learned through studying the tricks of its senior siblings.
“What we notice is that especially Millennials are really intrested in smart content and it’s possible to make smart content shareable,” says Plank.
So what are the secrets to making serious content find a large audience through social media? Well, Plank has written a how-to guide for her team, but that’s only for internal use – she refused to show me. Instead, she shared a few tips over the phone. Here they are.
- Play to emotions
we respond to bold language in headlines, and content that makes either delighted or outraged. Use a clear voice and stir up those emotions, Plank says, and your stories are bound to be attention-grabbers.
- Deploy the “curiosity gap”
This is an idea PolicyMic copied from Upworthy – it dictates that you should reveal some tantalizing information in a headline (or tweet or status update, or whatever), but not give away too much of a story. The headline should beg to be clicked on in order to reveal its mystery. It should stoke, but not completely satisfy, a reader’s curiosity. Example: “The libertarian answer to the minimum wage debate.”
- The underdog-overcomes-bully narrative is always a winner
- People are suckers for protest stories
- Use a lot of images
- Recognize the difference between optimizing for search and optimizing for social
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