Mashable: the cost of pivoting an offering and refocusing on what works

Mashable has had a difficult year, deciding to pivot its content offering amid a restructure which resulted in unexpected lay-offs. Global COO Mike Kriak talked to Miranda Ward about the changes and the return to its original remit of 'where technology and culture meet'.

The last year of Mashable’s history has been more reminiscent of one of it’s more traditional publisher rivals than a savvy, future-focused digital publishing company, with surprise editorial layoffs, including chief content officer Jim Roberts, and a shift away from more general news.

Pivoting to re-focus on its original remit of ‘where technology and culture meet’ hasn’t been an easy road for Mashable to take – with layoffs coinciding with news of a $15m investment round led by Turner Broadcasting System, a group of cable TV channels including CNN.

That news was quickly followed by that of Mashable partnering with Bravo, Telemundo and Facebook Live making it clear that Mashable believes its future lies in video.

KirakSpeaking with Mumbrella ahead of the New York event, global COO Mike Kriak said the partnership with Turner Broadcasting will allow Mashable to amplify the content it is creating for brands.

“What you’re seeing specifically in the US with Turner and what we found incredibly appealing, is a very open partner to allow for branded content and native advertising to run across those platforms as well,” Kriak said.

“This is a trend that is happening certainly in the US where the opportunity – not obligation, for branded content that we create or in partnership with Turner, will have the opportunity to run on site.

“TBS, for example, announced they’re decreasing the amount of ad slots on TBS; you see this across NBC and The Tonight Show and various other avenues where they want a more dynamic, engaging experience that allows for brands to be part of that content.”

Kriak says the relationship with Turner Broadcasting is limited to the US and was cagey on how a similar plan would roll out in Asia-Pacific.

“We have made a strong investment in our teams here and we want to be able to develop the market first, as it relates to continuing to create great content in Australia,” he said.

“At this stage I don’t think we have any specific designs that we ‘must do this’ or seeking to find a linear partner here. We love having conversations with folks, always, but we want to be able to focus on great content with our teams here.”

‘Technology meets culture’ roots

Last month Mashable announced it was returning to its ‘technology meets culture’ roots, which meant the company was scrapping its focus on world news and politics coverage.

The decision required Mashable to lay-off editorial staff including chief content officer Jim Roberts, with Kriak telling an audience in Singapore that the change was because general interest news wasn’t “resonating” with Mashable’s millennial audience “in a significant way”.

Kriak told Mumbrella: “Mashable at its core has always been strong in technology, entertainment and science and we’ll continue to invest in journalism in all of its forms – investigation, long-form, short-form, video, Snapchat; it’s all of those platforms.

“That’s always been consistent and resonated well with our audience and we want to be able to focus on that.”

Turner BroadcastingAcknowledging the $15m elephant in the room – the job cuts were announced just a week after partnering with Turner Broadcasting – Kriak said: “You raise $15m and you have to be strategic in where you put those dollars.

“It was a strategic decision to use the dollars as best we could to continue to develop our core strength,” Kriak said.

“Any organisation, no matter the amount of money they raise, has to be judicious in where they place their bets and where they spend those dollars.

“We focused on our core strengths as those were ultimately the best decisions to make because we knew that’s what resonated with our audience.

“Mashable will continue to invest and reinvest in those core strengths – we’re certainly hiring people; we want to hire more people – we’re going to hire more people.

“The question is making sure it’s what our audience wants and what we feel strategically is the best way to move forward.”

The refocus on its core strength of technology and viral-based content doesn’t mean Mashable won’t touch on global events or politics, but rather the Mashable team will look at different ways to tell stories like the Paris attacks or US politics.

“Trump is a great example, you’re not going to shy away from that because the internet is responding to those events. It’s really the focus and the approach and understanding those angles as it relates to technology which will be the way in which we tell those stories,” Kriak said.

When it comes to Australia’s upcoming election, Mashable will be looking at it through a technology and viral aspect.


Outgoing Mashable Australia editor Jenni Ryall explained: “When we were looking at the Budget, we were looking at the technology aspect of what was announced and the viral aspect – was anything going crazy on Twitter, were there any reaction or memes?”

Velocity: helping Mashable find the intersection of technology and culture

The return to Mashable’s heartland has seen the company develop a tool called ‘Velocity’.

“Velocity is a series of algorithms that actively crawls the social web and listens to what the social web is saying,” Kriak explained.

“At its core is how shareable is are these individual pieces of content across the social web and then it predicts how that content is going to go viral and where it’s going to go viral.”

Kriak stresses the tool has not and will not replace journalists, rather Velocity is designed for journalists to help them sort through the clutter of the social web.

“To be clear, humans are still writing the stories,” Kriak said.

“We have amazing journalists that we continue to have on our teams. They use Velocity to actively watch things and say ‘Wow, that’s of interest, I should cover that’.

“When you have a large tent-pole event like the Oscars, there’s a huge influx of content and a lot of people are watching it, tweeting about it – somebody trips, somebody makes a meme about it and there’s a collective user-generated content experience. So how you do find those digital needles in the haystack that is the event?

“Taking it back to that remit, which is to tell you what the intersection of technology and culture is, you have to figure out a way to filter that, you’ve got to figure out a way to tell the best story you can tell. Velocity does that; Velocity is that tool.”

When questioned on how a journalist breaking news fits into Mashable and its use of a tool such as Velocity, Kriak said the concept of breaking news doesn’t exist anymore.

“You or I can break news if we catch something on our phone or I could happen to look at Twitter at the same time somebody says something,” he said.

“For us, the value proposition of understanding what’s next in digital culture does have a certain sense of immediacy to it but I wouldn’t call it ‘breaking’.”

Kriak said the goal of a tool like Velocity is to pull the “gravity” of a shareable or viral story to Mashable, faster.

“Every story and concept has a shareable life. Nobody is talking about ‘the dress’ and what colour it is now – it’s been done, it’s finished. But at the time, it was a big explosion,” he said.

“For us, it’s how do we pull that gravity to us sooner for something that will eventually happen.”

Kriak rejected the idea that Velocity is just a click-driver: “It’s being informed, so our audience is informed.

“It’s so when you read Mashable you’re getting a great kaleidoscope of the latest of technology, latest in internet culture, latest in business and that utility. That component makes Mashable unique through Velocity.”

Off-platform publishing

Finding the content that its audiences want is just one part of the puzzle, delivering it to them on the right platform is the second, and according to Kriak it is “hugely important” to be on platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Apple News “early on”.

“Mashable was founded on that premise, Peter [Cashmore, Mashable founder] was one of the first individuals to use Twitter to link out to his blog,” Kriak said.

“This has sprung in to hundreds of live platforms. That early adoption of platforms is important and investing in the content creation that’s associated with those platforms is hugely important.

“You can’t fight the tide of where people are consuming content, you have to embrace that, but that’s ultimately the rub because then you get into the business model component of that and you say, if you can’t leverage your revenue model to third parties, you’ve got to have ownership, you have to participate in that.

snapchat icon“Snapchat and Facebook have done a good job of rewarding publishers for quality content. The concept of rep shares and who has the ability to sell has been a benefit to us all as we continue to grow on-site traffic.

“In ways we get a dual benefit of new revenue streams on being part of a platform where the eyeballs are. You’ll see very soon where brands want the audience – I don’t care where they are, it’s my audience and it’s all one and the same. The minute you do that, you better be proficient in telling stories across those platforms.”

Why Australia matters to Mashable 

For Mashable, having a global footprint – which has seen the company establish offices in Australia, Singapore, London and throughout the US as well as partnering with companies in India and France – is about tapping into a global digital culture.

“Digital culture is global and the internet likes to be surprised when it finds something, and that happens globally,” Kriak said.

Mashable“That happens in Australia and in Singapore – the individual offices serve a purpose. Jenni [Ryall, Mashable Australia editor] knows the right tone to tell the stories.

“We all know content doesn’t translate, even if it is English. There’s a tone that’s important. There are certain things that do translate, which is a wonderful opportunity when you run a global news organisation.”

Kriak said for the past five years the content distribution has largely been “50-50 US/global”.

“That started because the things written from the US resonated and we wanted to leverage that. We had a strong footprint when we launched in Australia; we wanted to grow that footprint and the only way you’re going to do that is to make sure you have that local tone and local voice,” he said.

“We would never be able to grow the Australian market if it wasn’t for local talent.”


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