A decade ago, a whole swathe of upstart media companies gatecrashed the publishing industry with a new model based on harnessing the viral power of social media. Rather than publishing content solely on their own websites, social-first publishers created short, snappy content distributed primarily on social media with the goal of maximizing views and ad revenue.
A shakeout in the mid-Teens, chiefly as a result of changing platform algorithms and precipitous ad declines, saw many social-reliant publishers hit the wall. Yet a few of those publishers that survived have now evolved into serious media groups in their own right. In the UK, LADBible, founded in 2012 by Leeds University graduate ‘Solly’ Solomou, reaches 69 million monthly users and boasts ten million followers on Instagram alone. Across the pond, LA-based The Shade Room is now the most popular media publishing brand on social media, generating almost 3.3 billion total cross-platform social media actions.
Fast forward to 2021 and a company many may not have heard of, TheSoul Publishing, has outpaced other digital studios being the first to achieve the coveted 1 billion subscribers milestone. Founded just five years ago by Pavel Radaev and Marat Mukhametov, and focusing on light-hearted engageable video content, TheSoul Publishing’s brands include 5-Minute Crafts, Bright Side, 123 GO!, Avocado Couple, La La Life, Frankenfood, Slick Slime Sam and Teen-Z.
Unlike most social-first publishers, TheSoul Publishing produces its own original content which makes it a unique outlier amongst social-first publishers typically reliant on user-generated content.
Victor Potrel, TheSoul Publishing’s VP of Platform Partnerships, puts the publisher’s success – which has seen it post a 45% annual revenue increase in its latest figures – down to “continuously building universally positive and light-hearted brands”.
We can’t say that we’ve hit a specific formula – simply we focus on continuously building universally positive and light-hearted brands. We’re firmly focused on producing crave-worthy original content for a worldwide audience.Victor Potrel, VP of Platform Partnerships, TheSoul Publishing
Potrel, who previously worked for YouTube and LEGO, says that localisation has also been a key strategy for the publisher which now translates its content into 19 different languages, saying, “Having team members in 70 countries and an efficient remote work system allow us to seamlessly adapt one video concept across several languages to serve viewers content in the language they’re most comfortable with, on the platforms where they want to watch it.”
We have more than 2,000 team members spread over 70 countries across six continents. From researchers, animators, editors, sound mixers, translators, voice-over artists, and more, cross-collaboration amongst production teams is highly encouraged to streamline content with worldwide appeal.Victor Potrel, VP of Platform Partnerships, TheSoul Publishing
Ideas are developed globally with each brand possessing its own dedicated team who develop the ideas and concepts. Potrel says that the entire production process takes “2-3 weeks” from initial research through scriptwriting, filming to final uploading across its channels including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, Snap and YouTube.
On average, it takes about 2-3 weeks to create each piece of content and during that time it is touched by more than a dozen people all across the globe.Victor Potrel, VP of Platform Partnerships, TheSoul Publishing
Exploring new platforms
Another factor in the publisher’s success has been its adaptability and willingness to search out and monitor new platforms and experiences “to better serve and expand our audiences”. Potrel points out its expansion onto Bilibili, one of the leading Chinese video platforms, as a good example with 5-Minute Crafts, Bright Side, Frankenfood, Doods and 7-Second Riddles all taking advantage of the platform’s 170M users.
We’re in the process of introducing content to streaming services like Amazon Prime and Roku. And we always have new innovative projects, like the recent launch of a dedicated virtual reality (VR) channel.Victor Potrel, VP of Platform Partnerships, TheSoul Publishing
As the publisher has grown, Potrel says its extensive back library has also created an almost virtuous feedback loop of data and experience to rely on as it develops new content, saying, “We can look back to see what’s been successful in the past and build on those learnings.”
Learnings for other publishers
Potrel views the future with optimism and says that the publisher’s focus on positive, universally appealing short-form content has been a “stroke of good fortune” at a time when many audiences are actively searching for good news to mitigate the widespread bad news from the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also cites the publisher’s reliance on remote working prior to the pandemic as another advantage at a time when many offices are closed worldwide, adding, “While remote working became a relatively new concept for many companies during the pandemic – it has been a core part of our company for many years. 80% of our staff work remotely and that’s how we see it remaining into the future”.
Mitigating risk also plays a factor in the publisher’s success, with Potrel saying, “Having a diverse portfolio of various channels is important” and adds that experimenting with new formats is also an ongoing process – cutting edge 3D technology and virtual reality as the most recent items on the publisher’s innovation roadmap.
However, it’s the need for publishers to be innovative, dynamic and flexible that Potrel feels is the most important factor in the publisher’s success, stating, “I would tell other publishers to be nimble and ready to adjust to ever-evolving audiences and platforms”.
It’s a young industry with constant change, so if you’re flat-footed you could miss the next big thing and get left behind.Victor Potrel, VP of Platform Partnerships, TheSoul Publishing