Creating Communities Around Content

The advance of ad-blocking tools on mobile devices and browsers pushes publishers to find new ways to connect with consumers-especially Millennials. It's a generation that was born "in control," with an insatiable urge to experience content, not just consume it. It's also an audience segment that is constantly connected to their preferred social communities and networks--channels that have also become the chief referral sites for news and information.

This is the key takeaway contained in recent research conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by the Knight Foundation. The report, "Mobile-First News: How People Use Smartphones to Access Information," reveals that news-seekers ages 18-24 are "3 and 4x more likely than typical online adults to go to news content from Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat." Different ethnic groups also have different preferences, with African-Americans "2.5x more likely than typical online adults to go to news content from Twitter," while Hispanics lead mobile news-seeking in all categories and arrive at much of their news content through sources including BuzzFeed and Facebook.

Social networks are the primary source for news-seeking Millennials. But social-savvy Millennials also increasingly demand content that is "real" and relevant to their lives, interests, and "tribes." That's why new social networks such as Versy, which calls itself an "interest-based social platform," are flourishing, by appealing to people's passions. Versy-which focuses on providing "snackable" content for Millennials, curated by Millennials-is betting on the attraction of content created and distributed by people who want to connect around common interests.

In practice, Versy lets users discover and engage with streams of real-time content about topics that matter most to them, allowing people who download the app to create their own custom stream of image, video, and audio content. According to Versy, users "can also tag their images, videos, and audio posts with up to three interest categories, making it easy for users to search for like-minded people who are equally as passionate about similar subjects." Users can create their own interest-based communities, host group chats, or jump into existing communities that are aligned with their interests.

On one level, Versy can be described as a new kind of interest-based social networking platform. But Versy is also giving content companies and brands a "voice" and another way to address their audience in an environment in which they can contribute to the natural flow of "conversation," not interrupt it.

Versy puts the emphasis on discovery, equipping users to search and view content created by other users, as well as original content put together by brands, organizations, influencers, and celebrities. Versy content partners include Food Network, SHAPE Magazine, and FOX. Bruce Jackson, CTO of Myriad (Versy's parent company), tells me internal metrics suggest the model is paying off for both parties, with users "spending nearly 9 minutes-per-visit in-platform" compared to just over 5 minutes on Instagram and closer to 8.5 minutes per visit to Twitter.

Interestingly, the inspiration for Versy comes from observing social app trends in Latin America. Versy started in the region in 2014 as a popular chat application, allowing owners of both smartphones and low-end feature phones to connect and chat about interests. Jackson recalls, "We identified a need and desire in the market for a platform that offers consumers not just a way to converse with friends, but also with people ‘at large' around content they care about."

At a time when Millennials across all ethnic groups are tuning out advertising and content they feel is irrelevant to their lifestyles and life stages, approaches such as Versy cover the bases to put content companies and brands squarely at the center of the conversation. However, what companies can ultimately achieve with the new voice they have-and the audience they can access-will depend on their resolve to be "real" and adhere to the rules of engagement.