Maria Perez

    • Member Type(s): Content Publisher
      Communications Professional
      Media - Freelancer
      Media - Broadcast
      Media - Print Journalist
      Media - Student Journalist
      Media - Web-only/Blogger
      Media - Other
    • Title:Director, Audience Website Operations
    • Organization:ProfNet
    • Area of Expertise:Website operations

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    Cracking the Facebook Code: How LittleThings Conquered the World’s Biggest Social Network

    Friday, March 24, 2017, 11:27 AM [Event Recaps]
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    In today’s digital culture, Facebook success is something all publishers dream of.

    In a little more than two years, LittleThings has found what works.

    Launched in 2014 with one employee, LittleThings is now the leading lifestyle destination for inspiring, uplifting and engaging content.

    The brand has 10 million social followers and garners more than 280 million video views per month. And with 52.9 million uniques a month, it’s also a top 100 comScore site, beating out the likes of Mashable, Mic, Upworthy and Refinery29.

    Maia McCann, editor-in-chief of LittleThings, chalks the bulk of that success up to two strategies: tapping into a demographic no one else is serving, and listening to your audience so you know what they really want to see.

    “The reason LittleThings has grown so fast is, in part, because we concentrate on an overlooked demographic: women over 35,” says McCann.

    With many brands focusing on millennials, women age 35+ were not getting content targeted to their needs, says McCann. LittleThings recognized that opportunity and targeted their content specifically to that demographic.

    The Editorial Funnel

    “Cracking the Facebook code isn’t a magic formula,” said McCann. “It’s really about listening to your audience and finding out what they like, and then creating content around that.”

    To do that, LittleThings has two editorial teams: one that focuses on curated and licensed content, and another that creates original content, including illustrated galleries, video content and animations.

    Like with traditional media, LittleThings holds editorial pitch meetings every morning. This gives writers an opportunity to pitch ideas they think will be popular with their audience.

    Before pitching an idea, writers look at six criteria:

    Sourcing algorithms: Algorithms like Spike, Twitter lists and RSS feeds allow writers to discover content that’s starting to pick up traffic.

    Trend analytics: Analytics programs such as Google Analytics help writers see what’s trending.

    Performance metrics: Metrics allow writers to see what was successful in the previous week or so, which helps them figure out what’s going to succeed in coming weeks.

    Keywords and ideas: The team looks at keywords and ideas that have worked in the past. For example, one keyword that has worked well for their food content is funfetti. “If there’s a way to add rainbow sprinkles to a recipe and create a food video around it, we’ve done it,” said McCann.

    “Wow” factor: “There’s a video that was brought to us in a pitch meeting as an idea. It was about why we wear our wedding rings on our left fingers. This is an old wives’ tale, and we turned it into an original video. It’s a really great example of the ‘wow’ factor,” said McCann.

    Brand-safe: The idea of brand-safe means that they want readers to come to the site and know it’s not going to something that’s upsetting to them, like child abduction or negative news.

    “People know that when they see our little happy cloud logo, they’re going to click on something and be safe going there,” said McCann.” We don’t run any negative news. You’re not going to come to our site and see something that’s going viral. Anything related to ISIS or politics does not surface on LittleThings. That helps us differentiate ourselves from all of our competitors.”

    Facebook Live

    McCann said everyone should use Facebook Live for one main reason: It’s a great way to get to know your audience.

    “We can literally interact with our audience in real time,” she explained. “We talk to them. They tell us where they live. We found out about areas that we didn’t know people were living in that are enjoying our content.”

    Broadcasts last about 30 minutes at a time, and they take questions from the audience and answer them live.

    One example is a broadcast they did on a rescue kitten, Mac N’ Cheez, who lost the use of his back legs. The woman who took him in built him a wheelchair using Lego pieces. During the broadcast, they saw a comment from a viewer who said he would take Mac in but already had 17 other cats, and they mentioned the comment in real-time.

    “One of the beautiful things about Facebook Live is hearing from your audience as you’re discussing something in real time,” added McCann. “It’s been a really powerful tool for us to get to know our audience even better.

    Just Say No to Clickbait

    One thing that is really important to cracking the Facebook code is listening to Facebook itself.

    “About a year and a half ago, Facebook really started to kill clickbait,” said McCann.

    McCann defines clickbait is deliberately misleading someone to get them to click on something, and then giving them a negative user experience.

    “One of the things that’s so important to LittleThings is giving someone a positive user experience on the site, so we don’t want to mislead them with content that they weren’t expecting to see.”

    Because LittleThings focuses so much on making their readers so happy, one in four readers return to the site every day, half of the audience returns once a week, which shows they’re not purely getting one-off clicks from Facebook.

    This has resulted in LittleThings having the #1 rate of engagement per post.

    Testing 1 … 2 … 3 …

    Every piece of content on LittleThings goes through a proprietary testing algorithm, a regression analysis that factors in 20,000 pieces of content. Some of the inputs include clickthrough rate, cost per click, likes, shares, engagement, and time on site. The end result is 10x higher engagement on site than industry average.

    “There are a lot of people out there who are just looking at clickthrough rate, particularly advertisers,” said McCann. “We’re looking at the clickthrough rate and the engagement rate. We’re looking at the audience reactions, like the shares and likes on a post. And those are valued almost equally.

    They also do AB testing and, often, ABCD testing to figure out what’s the best way to wrap the content.

    “Doing a small test on an individual piece of content can prove a point and make that content be twice as viral,” she added. “We only serve our audience the very best of what we write, so while we don’t take things down from our site if they don’t test tell, we don’t run them on our Facebook pages.”

    Sharing is Caring: Six Tips for Creating Viral Content

    Thursday, March 16, 2017, 12:32 PM [Event Recaps]
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    We all know the feeling: You see something on Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat that you just can’t wait to share with your friends.

    But what if you’re on the other side of the coin and you need to figure out how to make the content people will want to share? How do you make something your readers will want to put on their timelines?

    Start With Good Storytelling

    When you’re up against Kardashian photos and Trump tweets, it can be hard to gain traction for your news. But if you have a good story, you can find interesting ways to present it for your audience.

    “It has to start with a good story,” says Sarah Frank, editor of NowThis, a new company “for young people, by young people.”

    “Good storytellers can find a way to put the story in a way your audience wants it,” she adds.

    For every story, think WWYS: What would you share?

    “If it’s not something you would share, if it’s not something you would be interested in, why are you making it?” asks Frank.

    If you can’t make a story in a way that would make you want to talk about it at brunch or coffee, if you wouldn’t text your friend about the story, you need to rethink your approach.

    That’s something that traditional media needs to do better, says Frank.

    “Across the board, traditional media needs to find better ways to reach out to young people. They need to find ways to have conversations with young people, who are their future customers. I don’t know that I’ve noticed a lot of outreach, particularly for young people, from any of the traditional publications other than ‘We’re on Snapchat.’”

    Stand out From the Crowd

    Unfortunately, having a good story doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll get an audience. To do that, you’ll have to stand out from the crowd.

    Find a place where you can do something different from what other people are doing. Sites like NowThis and Vox have found success with new angles of reporting and new ways to optimizing content for a platform where there’s a real hunger for it.

    They also show their brand’s personality and point of view with every piece of content they share.

    Take NowThis. When Facebook Autoplay video started, NowThis really started to take off.

    “At the time, we had a website no one was visiting on a regular basis,” says Frank. “Most of our audience was from syndication partners like MSN, AOL, Yahoo.”

    But when Facebook Autoplay took off, Frank immediately realized that they had to put some personality and perspective behind their stories.

    “It’s not the medium, it’s the personality. It’s the point of view. For us, that means stories that are important to young people -- whether that be news or larger issues in the world -- and really having that unique point of view. Anyone can put text on screen.”

    Pick the Right Platform

    Not all platforms are right for everyone. You have to “pick where you can win,” advises Choire Sicha, executive director of partner development for Vox.

    In his role, Sicha works across eight Vox Media brands, including, The Verge, Recode and SB Nation. He deals with relationships with publishing partners like Facebook and Google. He also runs the brands’ Snapchat Studio and a group called the Storytelling Studio, which does high-impact journalism.

    Sicha suggests narrowing your focus to platforms where you know you can do well, and cites Racked as a company that has done that successfully.

    “If you look at, which is a site about shopping, they publish a newsletter and they publish Facebook video – and that’s it. They’ve narrowed down their focus to two places, and it’s working phenomenally well. Their newsletter is gorgeous. It’s spectacular and successful.”

    Also, think about how your content fits the platform you’ve chosen. Are you forcing news and information there, or does the platform fit the content you’re sharing?

    “While we try to always try to come back to the story, there are definitely certain stories that might work a little bit more on one platform than another,” says Frank.

    Know Your Audience

    To find the right platform, you have to find what your audience is passionate about. What are the things your audience cares about? What are the stories they’re most passionate about? And, more importantly, what are people doing on a specific platform? Is it a platform where they’re dipping in for five, 10, 15 seconds, or are they going to be there a little longer?

    For example, while brands creating Facebook Live content are doing it mostly between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., that’s not necessarily when most of their audience is available to watch it. Keep in mind how – and when – your audience is consuming your content.

    Also, be open to feedback from your audience.

    “It’s not just about the view number,” says NowThis’ Frank. “We also look at the share number. We try to read what people are saying in the comments, because sometimes they are either saying explicitly or just hinting to us that they want more or less of something.”

    And sometimes the audience might not necessarily be huge, but they will be engaged.

    “There are a handful of things, particularly on Facebook Live, that we do because we have a small but engaged audience around it,” says Frank. “We have a show called ‘Trumped Up,’ where we take a deeper dive on things that Trump has done. It is a basic ‘person in front of the camera engaging with the audience’ thing, but she’s taking questions in real time and breaking things down, which is something that young people, especially, don’t get. They don’t get this moment to ask, ‘Can you break this down for me? Can you explain this thing to me? What’s this thing I saw five minutes ago vs. three days ago? How are they connected?’”

    If the young demographic is important to you, be careful not to dumb down topics. Instead, lower the “barrier to entry” slightly, says Frank.

    “Don’t assume your audience has been following these stories for 5, 10, 15 years. It doesn’t have the same context as for people in your newsroom. Just open the door a little bit because that’s where people really start to feel a connection. They’ll think, ‘This place made me feel smarter. I saw something here, I repeated it, and my friends thought I was cool and interesting and smart and knew what I was talking about. It made me feel good.”

    That creates a connection that will stay with the user.

    Snapchat in a Snapshot

    Snapchat is the new kid on the block of sorts. It’s fun, it’s hip – but it’s also challenging.

    “The most challenging part about Snapchat is it’s like a newspaper,” said Frank, a former print reporter. “It comes out seven times a week at 7 in the morning.”

    And while NowThis has a 12-person Snapchat team, there’s still a lot of content that needs to be created.

    “That’s been the main challenge,” says Frank, especially coming from Facebook, where her team would post things as they were ready, or on Twitter, where they would pop up for breaking news and then pop down when it was a little quieter.

    Sicha agrees: “We did a daily channel as well, which was grueling. You cannot have a team big enough to survive it. We did daily for almost nine months and it was tough.”

    Sicha’s team has now transitioned to doing specials, explaining that it works out financially for them.

    “Only a top few really successful Snapchat publishers make money on it,” he said. “It’s a very tough business -- but it’s also really rewarding. I have so much love for Snapchat because it’s cool and weird and unexpected and enormous and wild.”

    And while creating so much Snapchat content can been a challenge, it also provides a lot more room to play.

    “We were originally a top Snap only, and predominantly video,” says Frank. “Now we’ve expanded into more swipe-ups with some text. It’s been really exciting to see our audience gravitate to that. We’re playing with inline video and GIFs and really beginning to think about ourselves as a video publisher that can also do some text-based content.”

    Henry Goldman, head of video for BuzzFeed News, agrees.

    “It’s been fun to try and learn how to tell stories on these platforms and learn how to optimize your team to think about them and expand on them,” he says.

    Snapchat has also unlocked interesting new user behavior.

    “The platform created a whole new media consumption behavior when it launched Stories,” says Goldman. “The idea of sharing something with the knowledge that it will go away in 24 hours works a different muscle in your brain that releases different performative endorphins when you share it, and that’s not going away.”

    Find the Right People

    Of course, everyone wants a team with awesome, smart people, but hiring the right people goes beyond that. To really be successful on social media, you want a team made up of people who are versatile and have a thirst for learning.

    Goldman calls the ideal person the social version of an MMA fighter: “What I ultimately want on the video team -- and throughout the news organization -- is people who can be MMA artists. I look for folks who know how to box, and then they learn jujitsu, and then they learn kickboxing. And then, when a new fighting style comes up, they go in and learn that new fighting style.”

    For Frank, the ideal person is fearless. At NowThis, the newsroom is predominantly people under age 27 who live on their phones.

    “They’re the types of people in your friends group who always share the best stuff on Facebook -- the story that you don’t know how they found it,” says Frank. “They’re not just headline retweeters. They’re people who want to learn new skills.”

    They’re also not afraid of the constant creative changes and constraints that come along with the job. In fact, they’re people that tend to work really well with creative constraints. They like the creative challenge. They’re constantly reaching for new skills, whether that’s journalism skills, video skills or professional development skills. They’re constantly learning.

    And, of course, they’re good storytellers.

    View more SMW panels with the SMW Digital Pass here:

    Six Pieces of Advice From 2015 WiCi Awards Honorees

    Friday, October 2, 2015, 8:53 AM [Event Recaps]
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    On Sept. 24, more than 100 people gathered for New York Women in Communications’ 2015 WiCi Awards ceremony, held at the iconic Condé Nast offices at 1 World Trade Center in New York City, to celebrate the extraordinary talent of six rising stars in communications.

    The WiCi Awards recognizes emerging leaders for making a difference and significant contributions in the changing landscape of communications. This year’s WiCi honorees included:

    • Penny Abeywardena, commissioner, Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, City of New York
    • Jessica Bennett, editor, contributor, The New York Times; columnist,; contributing editor, Lean In
    • Katrina Craigwell, director, global content and programming, GE
    • Carrie Hammer, CEO, Carrie Hammer
    • Jolie Hunt, principal, Hunt & Gather, Inc.
    • Genevieve Roth, senior director of special projects, Glamour

    The event, hosted by previous Matrix Award honoree Dyllan McGee, founder/creator of MAKERS, left many full of inspiration, with each of the honorees sharing personal stories, valuable career advice and what key traits contributed most to their success. 

    Here are some key pieces of advice shared from each of the six exceptional women being honored:

    • “Being generous will set you apart from others. It doesn’t matter how much or little you have, try to be generous with what you have. I think generosity and honesty contribute most to success.” – Jolie Hunt
    • “Good and on deadline is better than late and perfect, every time.” – Genevieve Roth
    • “Be a force for good and bring others along with you.” – Penny Abeywardena
    • “Passion, persistence and resilience contribute most to success.  Those who are successful know that when you get 99 ‘no’s, the 100th could be a ‘yes’. – Carrie Hammer
    • “Don’t be afraid to fail. If it doesn’t work, try something else.”  -- Jessica Bennett
    • Have a strong support system, both professional and personal. They will be there for you when times get rough.” – Katrina Craigwell

    For additional takeaways from the program and this amazing group of women, follow the hashtag #WiCi15 on Twitter.

    Words of Wisdom From Successful Women in Communications

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014, 1:48 PM [Event Recaps]
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    The path to success is not always a straight line, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming when faced with the obstacles life throws at us. Although it’s easy to let these obstacles deter us from achieving our business goals, there are ways to conquer them so we can become successful.

    On Oct. 28, New York Women in Communications presented their annual WiCi Awards, honoring nine extraordinary women who have made significant achievements in the communication field. The award ceremony was emceed by 2014 Matrix Award winner Dyllan McGee, founder and executive of Makers.

    At the evening reception, each of the honorees shared her unique inspiring stories of how she overcame challenges and achieved success. It was evident throughout the night that no two stories were alike. The women’s words of wisdom left each member of the audience feeling empowered and motivated.

    Here are the top words of wisdom from the 2014 WiCi honorees to help guide you in the business world:

    “In chaos comes great opportunity.” – Stacy Martinet, CMO, Mashable

    “I don’t have a definition of success. If you can define success, then there’s nothing left to do.” -- Zain Habboo, senior director for digital and multimedia strategy, United Nations Foundation

    “Perseverance is key when it comes to success. It requires a tremendous amount of conviction and a willingness to see beyond what’s possible and just get it done.” -- Sarah Hofstetter, chief executive officer, 360i

    “Fail hard, fail fast, fail often. If you have an idea, you just have to put it out there in the world. If you haven’t failed yet, you haven’t tried anything!” – Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code

    “Persistence is victory. Success is not a straight trajectory; there are ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns. But if you keep your eye on the prize and focus on the finish line, eventually you’ll get there.” – Mara Schiavocampo, correspondent at ABC News

    “For a long time, whenever I was about to tackle a new assignment, I would have this terrifying sense of fear. Then it hit me that if I’m not a little bit terrified, a new project probably isn’t worth pursuing.” – J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author

    “When you hear no, say thank you and use that to make your next pitch better to get to yes.” – Danielle Weisberg, co-founder, theSkimm

    “In the day-to-day grind, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the bigger picture or get distracted by shiny opportunities, but staying tethered to a goal has been key to our success so far.” -- Carly Zakin, co-founder, theSkimm

    “You don’t have to have all the answers to take on a new opportunity or a new role in your career. The expression ‘fake it until you make it’ can work, and if you have the passion, the work ethic and the commitment to do something, those three ingredients are enough” – Maureen Sullivan, president, and Lifestyle Brands

    Hear more words of wisdom from these successful businesswomen: The 2014 WiCi Award honorees

    Pictured above, L-R: Dyllan McGee (host), Reshma Saujani, Mara Schiavocampo, J. Courtney Sullivan, Sarah Hofstetter, Carly Zakin, Danielle Weisberg, Stacy Martinet, Zain Habboo, Maureen Sullivan.

    Photo credit: Jan Goldstoff

    ASJA 2014: Recapping the Recaps

    Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 2:32 PM [Event Recaps]
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    The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) hosted its annual conference last month in New York, and we've been posting recaps of a few panels we were able to attend.

    If you missed any of the recaps, here’s a link to all of them:

    Sassy Sentences and Wicked Good Prose: How to Craft Better Writing: San Francisco-based journalist Constance Hale shares her tips for perking up your writing in surprising ways.

    Social Media Crash Course: Write Tweets People Read: Social media experts from BuzzFeed and The New York Times share their insight.

    The Hero's Journey: The Fiction Foundation for Great Nonfiction Interviews: Writer Mary-Kate Mackey shares tips for nonfiction writers.

    Taking Control of Your Book’s Success: A Self-Publishing Primer: A panel of bestselling authors and book publishing professionals cover the basics of self-publishing.

    So You Want to Be a Bestselling Novelist: Diane O’Connell, a book development expert and former Random House editor, led this workshop.

    Humor Writing for Yuks (and Bucks!): A panel of writers talk about how to add humor to your writing.

    Meet the Masters: The Art of Science Writing: This panel featured Carl Zimmer, who writes a weekly column for the New York Times and a blog, The Loom, for National Geographic; and Pamela Weintraub, the neuroscience and longform acquisitions editor at Aeon and contributing editor at Discover.

    Recordings of the 40+ individual sessions are also available at $10 for ASJA members and $15 for nonmembers (or $200/$250 for the full set). Visit for a link to all the available recordings.

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