How Upworthy Thinks About Metrics

0 Comments 03 April 2014

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The founder of the news site Upworthy, Eli Pariser, knows just a little bit about how to get people to read his content. He joined in 2001, and recently launched the massively popular news site Upworthy. Pariser spoke with New York Times journalist David Carr at South By Southwest Interactive about Upworthy: why he created it, the relationship with Facebook, and how Upworthy views metrics. While reading about the conversation in The Guardian, I was struck by Upworthy’s key metrics: importance, satisfaction, and quality.

“We think a lot about three metrics: importance, satisfaction and quality,” said Pariser.

These metrics are a combination of mission and performance. It was refreshing (and quite frankly surprising) to read that Upworthy doesn’t think, firstly, “how can this go viral?” Instead, Pariser reframes “how can more people see our stuff” in terms of mission and purpose. “Unless we figure out how to make the important stuff really engaging, I don’t know that it reaches a broad audience,” he told Carr.

1. Importance

Pariser told Carr that “importance is the civic importance or the social importance of the piece of content.” That’s mission, right there. Upworthy is focused on figuring out how to get what important to them, out to the most people possible. Upworthy has merged mission completely with implementation better than almost any organization around.

As an example, Pariser shared the story of the first viral video on MoveOn, which was originally titled “Zach Wahls Speaks About Family.” When the headline changed to “Two Lesbians Raised A Baby And This Is What They Got,” the video went viral. Pariser figured out how to “make the important stuff really engaging.”

2. Measure satisfaction.

At Upworthy, they measure satisfaction. Pariser does not call it interaction or engagement. He thinks of satisfaction. As in: “am I satisfying someone’s desires?” Not “am I engaging?” I applaud the reframing of engagement as satisfaction, and would love to see more of that in our nonprofit sector.

Pariser mentioned during the interview that “the satisfaction, the engagement, that’s the objective signals that people are actually enjoying this. Are they sharing it, are they staying with it, are they clicking it?” This is the method Upworthy uses to determine whether or not content is satisfying.

Clicks, shares, and interactions are relatively standard measures of satisfaction (which engenders a virtuous cycle of continued interaction and spread). Do clicks, interactions, and shares capture whether or not something is satisfying? I don’t have the answer, but I’m intrigued enough to continue pondering this.

Do you think beyond downloads, time on a page, or survey results as measures of satisfaction? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

3. Quality.

“Quality I think of as the subjective traits of something that’s really a fine piece of journalistic craft. A high-quality New Yorker piece versus a high-quality Time piece… this ineffable little piece of the soul of the publication that comes out when you have quality,” offered Pariser.

If you want to achieve quality, you have to know it, value it, and prioritize it internally. How can you measure quality? Quality is what you’re proud of publishing. It’s that infographic you won’t print until it looks exactly like you envision, and is informed by the brand and mission. It’s the compelling YouTube video, the Facebook post that (while possibly breezy in tone), also meets your organization’s quality standards.

Attention Minutes

Pariser mentions that “Upworthy’s key metrics have shifted away from measuring unique visitors and page views to something called ‘attention minutes.'” For me, that was the most intriguing statement of the entire conversation. Pariser is trying measure whether or not readers stick with and enjoy the content. In other words, “attention minutes” is their foremost KPI.

Upworthy’s secret sauce is a mix of importance, satisfaction, and quality. Getting attention minutes, and figuring out how to measure that, improve upon it, and execute the same thing again and again.

Not the usual suspects.

What’s your secret sauce for measurement and results?



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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