Secrets to millennial success: How PopSugar spreads mobile love

The three pillars of the brand – PopSugar, ShopStyle (ecommerce), and PopSugar MustHave – together attract 100 million unique visitors per month, with one billion USD in annual sales driven to PopSugar’s retail partners. Despite only launching two years ago in UK, in general they’re touching about one in three millennial women in the US and the UK – and part of the way they do this is by trying to be proactive, reaching out to their audience and asking what they want.

How people consume digital content

Referencing a study, Maitland described the consumption of digital content as “the new ‘me time’” for women, with PopSugar’s audience spending time reading about shopping (57 per cent), or food and cooking (46 per cent), for example.

“Our audience has a mobile device with them pretty much at all times,” Maitland said. Unique views from mobile devices first surpassed desktop ones back in 2014, and now 57 per cent of PopSugar’s audience is primarily using mobile to access their content. “This has made us consider how we harness mobile consumption, and reevaluate both our guiding principles and the expectations of our consumers,” added Maitland.

Immediacy, personalisation, authenticity (IPA) 

Next Maitland went on to talk about the ‘IPA’ (immediacy, personalisation, authenticity) strategy for content. Favoured by PopSugar’s CEO, efficient delivery of content in the way that consumers expect is key to the method.

And it applies to both the millennials and Generation Z which make up PopSugar’s main audience, Maitland explained. With studies showing attention spans are on the decrease (12 seconds for millennials, just eight for Generation Z), it’s more important than ever to make content speedy and relevant. Furthermore, she added, Generation Z is the most diverse and progressive yet; there is a high proportion of racially mixed individuals, and transgender bathrooms, same-sex marriage etc. are more normal for them than for other generations. So how does this translate to PopSugar’s strategy? What content might these people find interesting? Here’s how they break it down:

  • Immediacy – PopSugar always tries to be ahead of the trend. They deliver content fast, deliver the point fast and deliver it in an eye-catching way.
  • Personalisation – they tailor topics, and follow the “one size content does not fit all” approach. They invest in niches and focus their content accordingly to a small but highly engaged customer base.
  • Authenticity – this is the hardest thing to achieve. “Once you start talking about authenticity you’re not authentic any more,” said Maitland. So the brand tries to have employees who reflect their positive, down-to-earth voice. Additionally, they leverage influencer content – bloggers etc. who have that additional resonance with consumers, and post regular features, for instance on the Today Show, to increase brand authenticity and awareness.

Expanding on this, Maitland highlighted that Facebook has been very successful for PopSugar. They regularly create fast, short videos for a social context, making sure they’re top of the Facebook feed by responding to trends quickly. PopSugar “has video in its DNA”, with a large studio in Los Angeles dedicated to making hundreds of videos per month. And video is becoming increasingly engaging, especially with Facebook’s algorithm which privileges video content.

Further, they emphasise individuality by investing in bespoke images. “We don’t use Getty or image databases,” said Maitland. “Instead, we invest in shoots seasonally to make sure we stay fresh and relevant.”

Finally, they place great importance on having a quality in-house team. “We have a lot of millennials in-house writing content for us – they understand the things they’re writing about,” added Maitland. They also use real experts to increase authenticity, and this is reflected in the popularity of PopSugar Fitness, a channel in which they utilise the opinions of trusted experts. “Passion isn’t enough – you need to know your subject matter.”

Targeted activity is another important strand of their strategy. As Maitland explained, they try to find more “niche” topics which don’t necessarily apply to many users, but which they know a small, committed percentage will find relevant and likely be very engaged with. Then they promote it by targeting that specific audience using social media tools. “It requires bit more effort to address different segments of our user base, but it does deliver returns in terms of engagement and ultimate reach,” said Maitland.

Content creation and marketing tools

Maitland next went on to explain how the PopSugar editorial team ensures they’re focusing on the right content, using tools TrendRank (in-depth analytics) and PS Engagement Score (a scoring system to identify trends). 

Trendrank aims to identify accelerated social engagement on the web. “We look at more than 300 premium content channels (BuzzFeed, Refinery29, HuffPost, Cosmo, NYT, etc.) and see how much engagement they get,” said Maitland. “Acceleration is what’s exciting to us – for example lots of likes in short space of time. Then the trend team identifies what’s ‘trending’, and creates content accordingly.”

The PS Engagement Score, meanwhile, is a tool which measures click-throughs on images, social shares, etc. These are then added together to create a “score”, and timing is critical – a particularly popular topic, for instance their article “41 outdoor activities to get kids out of the house this summer”, was planned into editorial calendar in order to maximise its reach and searchability.

In addition to these tools, they also plan to launch a new tool called Checkout soon, which is designed to facilitate a seamless shopping experience both on the US and UK sites. It will provide a new functionality for shopping directly on the PopSugar site, Maitland explained.


Maitland ended on a very positive note, pointing to data to demonstrate PopSugar’s dramatic increase in Facebook video views, substantial steady growth on YouTube, and massive exponential growth on Snapchat.

“We think about every single piece of content and make sure it fits with the IPA strategy,” she ended, reiterating the key messages:

  • Immediacy – “Give it to me fast, give it to me now.”
  • Personalisation – “Make it all about me.” Be okay with making content for smaller segments of audience – it pays off.
  • Authenticity – “Speak my language.” Make sure staff members know what they’re talking about.

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