The doors to the elevator opened to display an office that is sleek, stylish, and largely white, with touches of the famous Mashable blue. Shiny, long, chalk-hued tables serve as desks, conversation booths are for impromptu meetings, and conference spaces are named after movie settings (East and West Egg from The Great Gatsby, The Wardrobe from The Chronicles of Narnia). Did we mention a dedicated space for Google Hangouts, a state-of-the-art video studio, and a high-tech kitchen replete with a Soda Stream? There is also the obligatory ping pong table, the new must-have at digital media companies. Mashable’s offices have a really chic and futuristic look to them, which provides a fresh and fun, but professional, ambiance. Employees enjoy the good digital life as they select the best content for the site that promises “viral content before it goes viral.”
The office reflects Mashable’s goal of being “a company for the digital future of publishing.” And students in the NYU School of Professional Studies M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program got a chance to see and hear about the Mashable mission during an industry visit to its brand new headquarters on lower Fifth Avenue.
The visit started with an introduction by Fiorelli Salvo, Communications Manager, and Susan Temple, Communications Assistant, who told us that Mashable was created as a technology blog in 2005 by Pete Cashmore when he was just 19 years old and living in his hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland. In the past eighteen months, the company has grown massively, more than doubling its staff and greatly expanding its audience, with 35 million unique monthly visitors to the main site and 18 million social followers across platforms. Its target audience, said Salvo, is “Millennials and those who think like them…those who have grown up with technology. Mashable is the voice of digital culture.”
During a tour of the offices, it was clear to us that the Mashable staff wants not only to be the voice, but the analyzer and perhaps arbiter of digital content. We stopped by the space where a team of engineers works on a proprietary program called “Velocity; the program views what is trending on the social web and alerts the news team. We also visited the glass-walled video studio (“We believe in full transparency,” said Salvo), which epitomizes the company’s belief in multimedia storytelling. When asked how Mashable evaluates the success of one of these stories, it was explained that social media shares, likes, and impressions were some of the main tools for measurement.
After the tour, we assembled in a conference room where Stacy Martinet, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, explained Mashable’s marketing plan. This consists of a continuing message campaign cycle of launch, reception, sharing, re-engaging, and finally acting on this engagement. She explained how the marketing team relies heavily on every form of social media in the process. Highlighting four important principles of digital marketing, she mentioned: “Think what will get them thinking;” be “picky” when picking platforms and knowing what’s going to resonate; select usable, not “big,” data; and remember that the future is about storytelling.
Martinet further explained Mashable’s secret weapon: “Velocity,” she explained, “crawls the social web, picks up topics, puts them into an algorithm formula created by the company, and then gives the content a Velocity score to determine how viral this content will become in the coming weeks.” This, she said, is what allows Mashable to be ahead of the curve with all of their content. “Once the content is published,” Martinet added, “it is given a final Velocity score, which all readers can see in the top right corner of the screen. Our community is smart.”
Next we heard from Jim Roberts, Mashable’s Executive Editor and Chief Content Officer. Roberts, who has over 30 years of journalism experience, including high-level positions at The New York Times and Reuters, came to Mashable last November to help revamp its news coverage. His goal, he explained, is to focus on giving his audience “the widest spectrum of content, from the softest of fluff to the hardest of news.” The cycle, he added, might start with Grumpy Cat and end with reporting on the Scottish referendum. (He expressed real pride in the site’s coverage of that recent major news event, noting that The New York Times had three correspondents on the scene; he wasn’t convinced that their coverage was any more robust than Mashable’s, which relied on reporting from a single broadcaster, the UK’s Channel 4 News.)
Roberts is very sensitive to the interests of the Mashable audience, and has expanded its coverage of subjects like climate change and environmental issues. “It’s important to me,” he continued, “that we remember what a lot of our audience comes to us for. Mashable is trying to cover news in a way that is unique and accessible to its readers.” By doing this, Roberts added, the site is able to keep its readers interested and coming back. He also looks to highly visual stories such as the conflict in Ukraine, and finds ways to tell them in rich images as well as words. “Instagram and Twitter are big friends of ours,” he noted.
Roberts then talked about Mashable’s recent business expansions. The company has opened an Australian office, and the London office will be operational next month. Also, they recently started working with Geofeedia, a location-based social media monitoring company that verifies content through geotags, helping editors see where the stories and photos are coming from.
So who is their competition? “Everyone and everything,” Roberts explained. “The pace of change now is exponentially faster than even five years ago.” By changing with the times, Mashable is able to stay as a top-rated source of information for news and entertainment-hungry Millennials.
To leave us with a thought-provoking concept, Roberts ended his presentation by stressing Mashable’s belief that “content can be completely visual and still be just as effective,” which seemed to be a theme stressed and repeated during our visit. “Writing comes naturally to many people—learning to be as effective a communicator with images, illustration, or video is a harder task,” said Roberts. “So think about how other tools can be used to tell stories and then you will be the most effective. Learn how to tell stories without words.” Only then, he predicted, “will you be able to adapt with the times and become a proper ‘digital journalist’.”
by Samantha Knoerzer