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Revealed: Upworthy’s new revenue model

There can’t be many social media man­agers who haven’t heard of New York’s mete­or­i­cal­ly suc­cess­ful viral aggre­ga­tion and con­tent shar­ing start-up Upwor­thy; and with its recent­ly announced mon­e­ti­za­tion plan, there’ll be few­er still.

Col­lab­o­rat­ing on native adver­tis­ing

Last Octo­ber, short­ly after it raised $8 mil­lion in Series A, its exec­u­tives were already talk­ing about mak­ing mon­ey through spon­sored adver­tis­ing. Now they’ve lift­ed the veil on those plans: it’s going to bring in spon­sored con­tent through its new “Upwor­thy Col­lab­o­ra­tions” pro­gram.

That might leave social media man­agers feel­ing puz­zled. Can native adver­tis­ing real­ly fit with a com­pa­ny ethos that’s osten­si­bly com­mit­ted to social issues? Here’s a state­ment from the recent com­pa­ny blog unveil­ing the ini­tia­tive: they’ve clear­ly antic­i­pat­ed that ques­tion:

“We know there are seri­ous con­cerns any time a media com­pa­ny decides to work with adver­tis­ers. The most impor­tant thing for us is to find a way to grow with integri­ty while retain­ing your trust. That’s why it’s so impor­tant to us to be straight up with you — our com­mu­ni­ty — and let you know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We’ll keep tweak­ing this mod­el as we learn and get feed­back from you, but we both believe we’ve found the right path to start on today — one that advances our mis­sion and will hope­ful­ly help Upwor­thy to remain strong, inde­pen­dent, and sus­tain­able for years and decades to come.”

Retain­ing prin­ci­ples

The new Col­lab­o­ra­tions pro­gram has three com­po­nents: brands can receive con­sul­ta­tions on how to make their con­tent com­pat­i­ble with Upwor­thy (those that don’t fit won’t be able to use the pro­gram), they can spon­sor curat­ed top­ics and/or they can pro­mote their own posts.

The first adver­tis­er to sign up is Unilever, which will be work­ing with the start-up to pro­mote its “Project Sun­light” sus­tain­abil­i­ty pro­gram. For its art, Upwor­thy is adamant that it’s not about to com­pro­mise on its prin­ci­ples. It’ll retain full edi­to­r­i­al inde­pen­dence and it’ll steer clear of com­pa­nies that cyn­i­cal­ly cam­ou­flage bad behav­ior with super­fi­cial work designed to make them look good (so-called “green­wash­ing”).

More­over, there’ll be a strict ban on expand­able ban­ner ads, obtru­sive adver­to­r­i­al con­tent and home­page takeovers on the site.

And it’s doing spec­tac­u­lar­ly well: fig­ures from Newswhip show that its aver­age post dri­ves 75,000 Face­book Likes. That’s 12 times more than its New York neigh­bor, Buz­zFeed.

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