Thursday, June 9, 2011

Funny or Die's Recipe for Success: Great Content, SEO & Social Media - Patrick Starzan, Funny or Die

Core to any good video content strategy is a blend of ingredients that compel and engage viewers to discover and share your content. You can have the most compelling content in the world, but if people aren't aware of it and can't find it easily, it won't make any difference. According to Patrick Starzan, Vice President of Marketing and Distribution for Funny or Die, its recipe for success is a combination great content, search engine optimization and social media. I caught up with Starzan at the Online Video Platform Summit where he discussed how Funny or Die developed its content strategy and some of the common mistakes publishers make with online video.

Funny or Die is both a video content site and brand focused on funny videos, and since its founding in 2007 by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Hench, it has become one of the top destinations for comedy on the web. It's known for celebrity-driven comedy and has a steady stream of topical viral hits, including its most viewed video, The Landlord, with over 76 million views that features Ferrell, McKay and McKay's two-year-old daughter Pearl who plays the foul-mouthed landlord that berates Ferrell for overdue rent money. Other celebrities are featured regularly in Funny or Die exclusives, such as Zach Galifianakis' hilarious web series Between Two FernsThe October/November 2010 issue of Streaming Media magazine features an in-depth cover story on Funny or DieThe Art and Science of Funny or Die - Streaming Media Magazine, that chronicles the rise and success of the popular comedy website, which Streaming Media editor Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen calls, "a shining example of marrying the best of Hollywood to the best of Silicon Valley."

Starzan says:
"For us, social media has been a core part of how we get our content discovered, and it's something we've working on for years."
How Funny or Die got there, Starzan says is that:
"Everything starts by defining your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and your metrics and what's important for your company's success. So we did that and we went out and developed a content strategy, separately for each of the platforms, understanding that the type of person on each platform is consuming and engaging in content in different ways. We really follow a strategy of building social capital, trying to give more than we get, trying to interact with the user, trying to give them a platform for access to Funny or Die, but also a platform where we can celebrate who they are."
Starzan says the Funny or Die team spends a lot of time working on their content strategy, about eight to nine hours a day on each of the platforms, because they feel that users are more engaged with content they want to watch.
"After your content strategy," Starzan suggests, "you start with your acquisition strategy and figure out how to target more people to come to join each of your platforms."
For many brands, the question of whether or not to drive traffic to its own site rather than establishing a presence on YouTube is quite common. For Funny or Die, its content strategy was to first establish its brand and then go to YouTube.

As Starzan explains:
"For us, coming out of the gate we really wanted to establish Funny or Die as a brand and we took a very walled garden approach. So we really wanted to control the experience and optimize the experience to out users, until we felt we had a brand that had a solid foundation. We didn't want to dilute it by actually going out and doing a lot of distribution, especially with YouTube. Once we felt we had that brand equity, that's when we went to YouTube and established a windowing strategy of our content over on YouTube, because obviously YouTube has a huge, huge audience."
Funny Or Die's photo: This is our new social media expert: Robobot.
Starzan says though that YouTube distribution hasn't cannibalized its brand or the video views on its own website and sees about the same amount of consumption on YouTube as on its our own site.

So for Funny or Die, it's now about exposing its brand to the largest audience. But as Starzan notes, a lot of Funny or Die's traffic comes from search and they've done a lot of work optimizing their video players and the specific type of keywords. Direct traffic though continues to grow as Funny or Die has become more of an established brand. But by far, social media has been one of its critical success factors for audience building and has a presence on FacebookTwitter, Tumblr, StumbledUpon, Reddit, and so on, which are all places that people can search and discover Funny or Die's content.

By the numbers, Funny or Die's social media presence continues to prove successful by doubling its number of followers in the last six months, with 2.2 million Twitter followers and with 938,749 Facebook fans (but more than 3 million Facebook fans along with co-founder Will Ferrell), 40,000 followers on Tumblr and 468,306 subscribers to its YouTube channel. The website is also getting 2,000 “Likes” per day with an overall audience reach of 32 million through its social media channels.
"We make funny videos with celebrities in it," Starzan laughs, "and it lends itself well to the social media world."
The advice he offers to online video publishers and marketers to get their content discovered is that:
"It's about really having a comprehensive strategy. I don't think you should look at one, search over social media, as two different things, or two different variations of what's important. They're both just as important as the other. Because at the end of the day, you want to have your content discovered as quickly as possible by relevant audiences… So, put as much time into both of them as you can."
Starzan admits that they've learned a lot from trial and error, and for search, he recommends that you make all your content embeddable; that you have links coming back to your site; and that your tags are using the optimal keywords that you want to be discovered for, because it becomes a huge back linking strategy and you define what people are seeing when they back link to you. He says it's about making sure you do the simple things; like making sure your sitemaps are indexed with all the search engines and identifying the keywords that drive traffic to your site or to specific pages. If they'e driving a lot of traffic, go to that page and optimize that keyword for that page so you can rank better in search.

For publishers looking to build out their platforms using social media, Starzan says that it's not just about driving traffic to your site but about being a part of the community. While Funny or Die has an edge over other media properties through its celebrity power, he says it really comes down to the basics, which first and foremost, is to make great content.
"You have to have great content if you're ever going to survive on social media," he says, "and make a lot of it. Then just make sure you're in those communities. I think a mistake a lot of people make, and we made it in the beginning, is we just put up these pages and we'd put content up there and expect people to engage with it, share it and do everything we wanted them to do with it, but it just dies. You have to be there everyday – it's just like any other social interaction – you have to be there, you have to have that conversation, you have to listen as much as you talk. So take the time to learn all the nuances and definitely realize that, a lot of people say social and SEO are free, organic ways of driving traffic, but it take a lot of time in terms of resources to really develop these platforms and really optimize them."
Funny or Die recently introduced a new feature to its video player to help drive traffic from social media sharing by adding a clickable embedded Twitter hashtag. According to NewTeVee's Ryan Lawler, the latest episode of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifinakis features the new social media element which is located in the bottom right corner of the video player.
"The embedded hashtag is a call to action that enables viewers of the video to share it with their friends," says Lawler, "Once clicked, it launches Twitter with a link back to the episode and the #btwn2ferns hashtag."
In an email to NewTeeVee, Starzan wrote:
“We are pretty excited about the potential of the in-video hashtag in driving usage and overall Twitter traffic. Since no one else is doing this it’s the first video we tested in, [but] I expect usage to increase as our users gain more exposure to it.”  

About Funny or Die
Since its inception, three years ago, Funny Or Die has emerged as an award-winning, top destination for comedy on the web. With hundreds of exclusive celebrity videos and a steady stream of huge viral hits, Funny Or Die has become the "place to be seen" for comedic celebrities, and the obvious destination for a daily comedy fix. Funny Or Die's founders are Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy. Judd Apatow is also a principal partner in Funny or Die.

Follow Patrick Starzan, VP of Marketing, Funny or Die
Head of Marketing @FunnyOrDie. I tweet about the interweb, marketing stuff and the FOD. I like coffee, tobasco, punk music and you!
Starzan (starzan) on Twitter
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