Upworthy Digs Deep On Mission-Based Storytelling With Data Backing

In this season of giving, it’s especially relevant to highlight companies that are making a difference. Upworthy is one such company that does mission-based story-telling that digs deep into data.

Sean Wojcik, a senior data scientist with Upworthy, told RTBlog that the company is not only interested in what drives people to feel something but also what impels them to share content. “We look at over 11 billion data points and all engagement metrics. A lot of this work involves measuring how people are feeling and responding to content, as well as engaging with it in real-time,” Wojcik said.

He cited Upworthy’s work with the Gates Foundation on a project that involves examining emotional reactions to content. Through testing and focus groups, Upworthy is looking at which  stories on its network get shared the most. Wojcik said Upworthy has identified three dimensions of emotional experience:

--How positive or negative the story makes you feel.
--How activating the story makes you feel.
--How much people feel they’re in control of their emotional experience, and how that encourages them to get involved and try to make a difference.

The stories that meet these three dimensions get shared the most, according to Wojcik.

Upworthy looks at what circumstances make people most likely to take an action. Those actions could be inquiries seeking more information, signing up for email newsletters, donating money, volunteering time, etc. What Wojcik sees is that the more empathic people can feel, 58% are more likely to share information, and 3.5 more times more interested in attending an event to raise awareness or money for a cause or event.

Wojcik cited a story about donating medical pill bottles to developing countries. Even after a month from the time the story on Upworthy’s site went viral, the company found that there was a 4% to 5% lift in terms of people who said they had read the story. That was about 6,000 to 8,000 people who donated as a result of reading the story.

Upworthy is also working with the Gates Foundation on stories about food, agriculture, and nutrition, and how to get people to maintain a healthy diet. Upworthy conducts research on the series of stories that it’s publishing with Gates, to determine how it  can motivate people to take action on food and hunger issues. Upworthy produces the content in consultation with the Gates Foundation and the content is labeled as sponsored.

Wojcik has worked with brands and nonprofit organizations that include Facebook, Target, TD Ameritrade, Aspen Institute, Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and the AFL-CIO.


“We want to measure the impact of content,” he said, adding, “We’ll continue doing empathy-driven storytelling and research around it. Today’s political climate offers a unique opportunity for us.


In terms of what percentage of Upworthy's content is sponsored/branded vs. regular editorial? Wojcik said 88% of Upworthy's editorial content is non-sponsored, with 12% percent sponsored. As for video, 78% is non-sponsored, and 22% is sponsored.  


Upworthy's reach on Facebook is about 220 million monthly unique viewers. In the past month, its Facebook page's "28 Day Engaged Users" (a Facebook metric defined by unique users who are liking, commenting, sharing), has grown 15%, according to Wojcik. 


From August through October, 2016, Upworthy has averaged 2 million monthly video post shares per month.


The number of people we reached between October 2015 and October 2016 with posted videos and articles:


October 2015: 7.9 million fans, 189 million monthly post reach (the number of people we reach each month with all posted videos and articles).


October 2016: 10.1 million fans, 221 million monthly post reach.

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