Although claiming video views of hundreds of millions per month, he told me the greatest achievement of the site was that it managed to blend the fun with the serious. The highlight for him was a series of videos designed to help young people, particularly Millennial men, find out more about the elevated risk of suicide among young men with mental health issues. it's a subject he passionately believes in and it's hard to think of another source that would be able to get millions of young men to engage with content designed to encourage them to stop being macho and talk about problems before they grow and overrun their lives.
If you follow Unilad on Facebook, as I do, this might come as quite a surprise because there is a lot of what you might describe as "jock" humour distributed under its name. It's the Millennial male's answer to surfing dogs and cute kittens as young guys and girls make funny videos about their everyday lives. For this non-Millennial males, the spontaneous moments of hilarity looking well-rehearsed and contrived, but the content goes down very well with its target audience and therefore ends up in followers' timelines and news feeds organically.
Along with this long line of lads playing tricks on one another there is a serious side, however. The Web site has a lot more news focussed with content that is not always ideally suited to social sharing and so it is less likely to go viral. However, Liam's point is, if it weren't for the viral funny videos, there wouldn't be an audience for the more serious news items and, crucially, for the educational content that just might, for example, get a young man to talk to a health professional about depression.
It's an important point because it shows how entertainment can lead to engagement that can be steered to serious issues and news coverage. The world's major news titles have all been scratching their heads at how start-ups can build huge followings and dominate a serious news issue in social when it is they who have the contacts and the pedigree to cover weighty issues. It's even more important when you consider that these Millennial males aren't going anywhere -- they'll soon be the 30-somethings buying houses, car and settling down as their careers take off.
The established news groups have
a decision to make. Will this audience grow out of thinking a serious news organisation can share whimsical videos and still be worthy of attention? Will this new approach be a flash in the pan before
people go back to reading content produced by a brand backed up with a century or more of a pedigree in news production? It's a massive question, isn't it?
But right now, sites such as Unilad are at least ensuring the question is raised. Do you have to limit yourself to the news or can a brand be more relaxed about how it grows a social following which means it has can then have the numbers on its side for serious, as well as jocular content?
Millennial males are proving ever harder to track down and target, thanks to one in three blocking ads -- and so, if nothing else, Unilad is showing how to gather this audience up and whether or not it's long-lasting, that's a pretty valuable proposition right now.