300 million in 3 years: how The Hook built huge scale and its symbiotic relationship with Facebook
The Hook is the biggest publisher you’ve never heard of - unless you’re a 22 year old living in Britain or US (their typical user profile). Since launching in January 2014, The Hook, or HelloU as it was called until last week before a major rebrand, has amassed an audience reach of over 300 million largely from its Facebook channel.
Hackers.Media sat down with The Hook’s CEO and founder Andy Fidler at the Hoxton hotel, to discuss The Hook’s growth and what he’s planning on doing with his huge audience.
Q: Crazy growth. How did you achieve such huge viral audience growth in such a short space of time?
A: An element of it was timing. The Facebook algorithm used to be much easier to build audiences and we got involved just at the end of this period. My business partner, Gordon Bennell was very good at building social pages. From there, we established an initial audience base and built our brand from there. Starting a couple of years later after the 2 other major youth platform publishers (Ladbible and UniLad), we were able to spot a clear position and opportunity in the market; an opportunity to engage both male and females aged 18 to 30, and focused on creating content around the key passion points of popular culture – movies, music, comedy, trending news etc..
Right from the beginning we have tried to lead the way on original video content from mashups, comedy sketches, funny interviews with celebs and live music sessions to the virtual reality mini movie we created for Blair Witch.
This clear positioning, has helped us to differentiate in the market and win brands and scale up fans.
Q: Team. Can you talk us through your team structure as a 'start-up viral publisher'?
A: The board is made up of myself, my business partner Gordon Bennell, who also runs a social marketing business, and our Chairman David Mansfield, who is the ex CEO of what is now Global Radio.
Knowing that our core focus in on pop culture and we want to be the MTV for the social generation; we have built a great team from a mix of backgrounds. The teams commercial experience ranges from 4 Music, Metro and EMI. Our talent ranges from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Winner to UK Battle Rapping champions. In addition to that we have always hired people that have good creative talent and just leaving school or university both of which are often in our audience target market.
Q: Beating the big boys. How do you do things differently from a traditional publisher?
A: We don’t try and do everything. We focus on the platforms that work for us and our content. We test and learn quickly. Our motto is to always punch above our weight and do a lot with little. Never has it been possible before to reach so many people with such a really small team. So where traditional publishers are failing to make the commercials stack up, I see this as a real opportunity.
Q: Facebook. You’re primarily a Facebook publisher, and heavily reliant on the whims of the platform. Could you discuss the risks you see with this and what your relationship with Facebook is?
A: We are a media partner with Facebook and have a good relationship with them. They are our biggest platform and the one we started with. The next two we are focussing on is Snapchat and Instagram. I don’t see platforms as a threat. Whether you are driving traffic from search or social, you are still reliant on an algorithm, however both the platforms and users prefer it if you don’t try and get people to click through so you can show them some ads.
If you were going to setup a shop, where would you choose to house it? In a high street with a constant flow of customers walking past, or in a field which is difficult for people to get to.
Q: Content. What are you doing with your audience, and how are you keeping them entertained?
A: We give them a fresh take on popular culture, and keep them entertained with funny / engaging content around the key passion points of movies, music, comedy and trending news.
Q: $$$. What’s The Hook’s commercial pitch to advertisers and what’s your core commercial engine?
A: We are one of the largest youth publishers globally and have the most engaged pop culture page on Facebook. We reach 320m people a month, 88% of UK millennials and 29% of US millennials. Our core focus is 18 to 30 males and female around the key passion points of popular culture – movies, music, comedy, trending news.
We lead the way on original branded content such as the Virtual reality mini movie we made for Blair Witch. Plus can optimise existing content for social – e.g. we were the first people outside Sony’s LA studio allowed to edit their movie clips. We took their original movie trailer for The Shallows edited it for social achieving 16x better results organically than them.
Q: The Future. Where will the Hook be in 12 months / 5 years time?
A: In 12 months we will have leveraged our existing fan base and built large bases across Snapchat and Instagram, built a US sales team plus launched 2 other publishing brands that target different passion points.
As TV declines and platform publishing rises, our 5 year goal is to be the largest pop culture publisher/media company globally.
Q: Advice. Do you have any tips to legacy / larger publishing houses on how to build success in the social publishing era?
A: Hmmm. None of the secret sauce I want to share; but if they want to start a relationship, we will be building to sell in the future, so feel free to get in touch.
Thanks for chatting Andy. And thanks for the mint tea ;-)