Mashable’s global strategy chief talks Australian expansion, Asia, branded content and how they predict viral content

Adam OstrowmNews site for the ‘connected generation’ Mashable launched in Australia late last year, and has announced a push into Asia. Alex Hayes sat down with Adam Ostrow, Mashable’s chief strategy officer, to see how those plans will play out, and how it will beef up in Australia.

You said at SXSW that Mashable was going to launch in Asia by the end of this year – what is that operation going to look like and why Asia?

Mashable already has a fairly large audience in SE Asia – Singapore, Malaysia Indonesia and The Philippines we have close to 2m unique visitors per month already there.

It’s not dissimilar to Australia where we had a similar audience, we’ll be looking at localisation in terms of content as well as localisation on the sales side. We haven’t decided whether to hire our own sales team or  work with a partner. Definitely the first half of this year we’ll look to have things started in Singapore.

Where does this fit into Mashable’s plans and where it sits in SE Asia?

One of the key drivers of Mashable’s growth is more people getting on smartphones and more people getting on social media – those are the two biggest things that drive Mashable’s growth, so more than 50 per cent of our audience now has access to Mashable on a smartphone or mobile device and more than 50 per cent are coming in from a  link they discovered on a social networking site and you’re seeing raid growth in both those areas across SE Asia.

Singapore is small in terms of numbers of people but we view it as the hub of SE Asia, so we’ll look to base our hiring there, at least initially.

Are you worried about censorship issues in Singapore?

It’s certainly something we’ll have to think about as we look to enter the market there. At this point right now we’re in the process of hiring our editorial folks.

In Australia the local site went live in November – what does it look like now?

We have our editor Jenni Ryall down there. We’re looking to add some additional editorial folks down there and we’re working with a partner, Inception Digital, selling our advertising down there, and so far it’s really been great.

What we’re seeing in Australia and the UK where we also developed a local site, what we’re seeing is the levels of traffic growing faster than we are globally. We’re seeing a lot of promising signs given we’re only a few months into international expansion.

We’re also seeing stories coming out of Australia and going viral around the world. A few weeks ago we had that story about Australia’s oldest man who knits sweaters for penguins, and that story went hugely viral on Mashable and it started in Australia, but ended up getting 200,000 shares globally.

We’re very encouraged what we’re seeing from the editorial side and we’re starting to see it pick up on the sales side. We’ve some global brands who are advertising inside Australia but we’re also doing some work with local brands like ANZ Bank, Qantas who are doing programs with us which is really great.

Are advertisers seeing value in the site?

Definitely. We’ve always had a global audience outside the US but up until we started up our international expansion it wasn’t being monetised. Having a direct sales force in the UK, and in Australia having Inception, having more folks on the ground is helping us sell more advertising. Both in the display side and taking Mashable’s branded content as well.

Have you started branded content in Australia? 

We’ve done a couple of small branded content programs in Australia, its something were looking to build on. We raised a big series B investor round in January and one of the big areas we’re looking at investing in is in video.

We’re seeing  lot of demand across the board on video – specifically our branded content program is becoming more video centric and content programs can handle custom video for brands like Intel and Adobe and Cadillac are creating custom video, so we’re building our own team that will develop unique content for us.

How does that team look – are you planning on building it out in Australia?

The way it works right now is we have a team in NY who coordinate with the Inception folks in Australia to create the content for advertisers.

What are the unique challenges you’re finding in Australia? 

It does seem like branded content is maybe more common place in the US, it’s just starting to get traction in Australia.

It’s early days for us and it starts with content, our goal first is to build the audience and get people that already love the Mashable brand consuming some local content, growing the traffic, growing the reach and starting to connect with some new consumers in Australia, and from there start to layer on the commercial elements. So far we’re very encouraged with what we’re seeing.

How do you measure your audience? How is the Oz audience building?

We measure our audience in a few different ways. Certainly unique users are important and globally in February we had 42m uniques.

Social shares and efficiency is something we pay a lot of attention to.

How many shares per post is Mashable getting?

NewsWhip just published a study and it looks at the number of pieces of content each publisher puts out and the number of Tweets they got and Mashable is the second most efficient publishers in terms of tweets per content.

Most shared was the BBC, NY Times and Mashable is third.

With Huffington Post coming in later this quarter and The Verge talking about an Australian launch, the market is filling up quickly, will you look at a marketing push in Australia? 

We’re definitely going to do more of some of the things that have worked for us globally, and already have Mashable Australia Twitter accounts, a little bit more of social internationally, and we’re making additional hires on the editorial side this year to double down on what we’re seeing there.

The other big benefit to being in Australia is it makes us much more of a 24/7 news organisation because of timezones, so I would say it’s a good place in general to be, as is Singapore. Just having more folks in that part of the world makes Mashable much more 24/7 and when you’re a company that has about 50 per cent of its audience outside the US that’s really valuable for us.

How do you go about keeping the DNA of the brand when hiring in overseas markets? 

We certainly put a lot of thought into hires from the editorial side. Generally speaking everyone we hire naturally understands social and understands what makes for content people want to share online – and we put a lot of effort into that process that people want to carry our tone of voice. Also our editorial people are brought to New York and we’re making sure we visit our international outposts as much as possible.

So far I couldn’t be happier with the way our international teams have gone, they’re doing a good job of delivering an international flavour to our sites locally.

In terms of a business model, digital media rely on the same models as traditional media – are you seeing other ways to monetise?

Advertising does represent the lion’s share of Mashable’s revenue at the moment. Overall there’s still a shift happening in terms of dollars we’re seeing from places like TV which is a good sign for our business, but we are starting to diversify our business model.

We have Velocity analytics platform which started out as a tool for the editorial team and we’re starting to licence that out so we have agencies using it like MEC and 360i and that’s something we’re looking to expand this year.

How accurate is it in terms of looking at virality – a lot of people say it’s nearly impossible to tell what’ going to go viral?

What it does is it crawls upwards of 150m URLs and is looking at social signals, Facebook likes, tweets, pins and based on those signals figures out what’s going to be the next big viral story on the web. It gives us a huge jump start when a piece of content is going viral. It’s really great for that middle layer of content.

On the one end we’ve got journalists out there breaking stories and on the other end we’ve got unique features and things like that we invest a lot in creating, and this middle layer is about curation.

Velocity is great as it tells us this is the story the whole web is going to be talking about in a few hours time and you can get that kind of jump on the content and have a huge amplification platform like Mashable does with social media with 21m followers, it gives us a real edge.

What is Mashable’s social media reach and how are you using social channels?

Half of our traffic does come from social and Facebook has become the largest source within that – more than 1bn active users and Twitter only has 300m, it’s a much bigger reach.

It’s a global audience and one of the things that makes us excited bout now moving into SE Asia and we also announced a partnership in India as well. We’re well diversified in terms of social media, Twitter remains strong that’s number two in terms of referrals and we’re using LinkedIn, and sharing business orientated content, that has been increasingly valuable in terms of gaining interest.

Pinterest as well has started to gain  lot of ground in terms of sending traffic, especially as its more accelerated categories.

We have a travel channel and Pinterest is strong in driving that.

What are your numbers in Australia?

We don’t disclose specific numbers but Australia and UK are growing faster than the global growth rate, and that’s an encouraging sign for us that adding localisation can drive initial audience in some of the markets with targets we’re looking at.

It’s making us much more 24/7 and having our editors in these countries picking up what is a local story that becomes a global story that we would otherwise have missed.

What are you doing on the issue of viewability of ads?

Anything we do all be global and it’s a key issue for advertisers this year. One of the things I’ve always thought Mashable had infinite scroll design and I think that solves some of the viewability as an ad will only load for you as you’re scrolling down that page.

  • Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella

Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.