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Published August 13th 2015

5 Publishers Driving Social Lift with Experimental Storytelling

In the social, mobile age, content consumption has evolved into something altogether new. Today’s audience members are constantly multitasking, constantly sorting the relevant signals from the noise, constantly scrolling through their social feeds to see what pops out as attention-worthy.

With the death of the homepage and the rise of detachable content, instead of professional tastemakers deciding what to push our way, we’re turning to algorithmic curation and our trusted tribes and influential peers. For publishers and brands seeking to nurture emotional connections with growing audiences, this evolving climate calls for entirely new tactics.

In order to keep people engaged with the media experiences we’re serving up, content professionals need to abandon our comfort zones and instead embrace storytelling formats that are optimized for snackability, interactivity and social media shareability. This is why formats like listicles and personality quizzes are extremely hot right now. However, as we start to look towards 2016, publishers and brands are looking for the next big thing, the formats that will turn heads and provide memorably engaging, immersive experiences.

Here are a few examples of experimental content formats that are already driving significant engagement yield and the forward-leaning companies that are enjoying the results of these new media products.

1. Open-Ballot Upvoting with MTV

Since Playbuzz rolled out the “ranked list” format a few months ago, few publishers have leveraged it as effectively as MTV.

This format is perfect for enlisting niche fan communities to get in on the action, so when MTV published “Vote: The Best Superhero-Themed Music Video EVER” with candidates including Ed Sheeran, the Ramones and Taylor Swift, the fans lit up their bat signals – or Avril and Britney signals, as the case may be.


As a result, the page went on to draw a total of 21,000 in-item upvotes and downvotes. That’s on top of a cumulative 12,000 social media interactions, which included nearly two times the Facebook shares and four times the tweets that content pages on have seen on average over the past six months.

2. Nike’s Hypervenom Virtual Reality

YouTube TrueView ads started experimenting with interactive 360-degree pre-roll content back in March, and according to Google’s official numbers, the format drives 36% better view-through rates than standard HD videos.

It’s easy to see why. VR is a hot space, and while this format supports scrolling controls from any Chrome browser, it truly shines on mobile, where simply adjusting the angles of our smartphones unleashes an amazingly compelling and immersive experience. Red Bull and Bud Light are among the YouTube partners to first dive in to 360-degree videos, but with its first-person perspective and high-res CGI rendering, Nike’s “Hypervenom II – The Neymar Jr. Effect” pushes the limits of the format.

This video has garnered 3.4 million views to date, driving hundreds of channel subscriptions and 637,000 social interactions along the way. In addition, the content has drawn 51 backlinks, many of which are from influential news outlets commenting on the innovative use of the format – yet another win for YouTube and Nike alike.



3. Revealing FX Secrets with MYmovies

Italian film portal has been known to experiment with playful content formats like trivia quizzes to augment its popular listings, reviews, features, industry analysis columns and news announcements. Last month, the site drove some solid social traction with its first-ever use of “flip cards,” a brand-new format from Playbuzz that compels audience members to interact with visual panels to reveal what’s behind them.

For this item, MYmovies selected ten iconic movies known for their visual effects and got its audience flipping to reveal how the filmmakers accomplished these feats. Here’s a sample.

Flipping cards is so fun that according to early measurements, people interacting with them are flipping 83% of all cards they come across – at least once. This specific content page went on to draw about four times the social media shares that the site’s average pages see.


4. TV Tournament Killed the Radio Times

Last summer,, a UK authority pop entertainment site, drew some 9 million votes with multiple rounds of voting for the top TV entertainers, using the bracket tournament interface powered by Bracketeer. This year, they’ve broadened the scope of the “TV Champion” tourney, starting with eight mini-brackets that break down the voting into genres like sports, soaps, news and drama.


So far the results have been remarkable, with one category, comedy, driving 9,400 social interactions and 1.2 million votes. The site’s early August post crowning Ricky Gervais as its king of TV comedy is Radio Times’s ninth most shared item of the past six months, with over 31,000 social media posts linking to it. Compare this with a site-wide average of 606 shares per page over the past half year, and it’s easy to see that they’re on to something.


5. EastEnders Spy’s Gallery Grid Game

Experimental interactive content formats may be changing the game for big-time publishers and brands, but smaller sites are benefitting from the audience engagement that these experiences drive as well.

A fan site dedicated to British soap The EastEnders, is case in point. This publisher created and embedded a “gallery quiz,” one of Playbuzz’s most visually oriented and mobile-friendly formats, challenging readers to identify characters from the show’s initial 1985 run from a grid of thumbnail images.

This page went on to draw nearly 13,000 shares on social media, making it the most shared item yet by its author and yielding 13 times the share volume that the site’s second-most shared item received. In addition, the item also trended on, where many of the platform’s user community creations are also showcased, drawing a whopping 122,000 social interactions there. Not bad for a niche fan blog!


Within Your Reach

Interactive formats, often heralded as the saviors of content marketing in the social, mobile age, are about as powerful as it gets in terms of audience engagement and growth.

Once only an option for multinational media companies with the means to develop or acquire their own proprietary formats, today’s interactive content creation platforms are open to all. Some of the best ones are even free and allow syndicated embedding of others’ creations, which means publishing scalability is within anyone’s reach. It’s time to stop lulling your audience with passive content experiences and start experimenting with formats already leading the charge as the best that content media has to offer.


Shachar Orren is the VP of content at Playbuzz, the free authoring and syndication platform for #PlayfulContent. Under Shachar’s leadership, Playbuzz provides publishers and brands with easy tools for creating and embedding content optimized for maximum engagement and social media reach. For more of Shachar’s thoughts on social content, you can connect with her on Twitter @Shacharo or via the Playbuzz blog.

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