Inside Mic's strategy to reach millennials

New Chief Strategy Officer Cory Haik talks engagement, videos and more

31 March 2016

Caterina Visco

CoryRelevancy and engagement are at the core of what Cory Haik does at Mic as their new Chief Strategy Officer. The new millennial-centric news site is getting noticed for its innovative reporting ways and youthful eyes on the news industry. But it is doing some serious business and it is on its way to conquer Europe. From pioneering new methods of mobile video reporting — with their recent acquisition of video app Hyper — to Facebook Instant Articles and more, Cory Haik tells us about her experience so far at Mic and what the future of news engagement has in store for us. She'll also be speaking at the GEN Summit 2016 on "How to become the New York Times for millennials".

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You left The Washington Post last December to join Mic. What have you been up to during these first two months? How has your job changed? What's the main difference in working for a media organisation targetting millennials rather than legacy media?

Newsrooms are newsrooms -- I love them in any shape or form! Mic has a very vibrant one and it’s growing, which is one of the most exciting things about working here. Everyone at Mic is driven by the idea that they are making a real impact in how they approach news. Mic is a media company that is writing the first draft of history through a young person's eyes. We fundamentally believe the definition of news is relevancy AND engagement. We are dedicated to showing our audience why it matters to them. As opposed to surfacing an endless supply of the world's problems, we're a media organisation that's about showcasing and effecting change.

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Photograph courtesy of Mic

In which ways does Mic try to reach out to millennials? What are your specific strategies? Is it a matter of content, distribution, language, media, or platform?

Mic has a very deliberate strategy on how we approach news, develop stories and then package them to our audiences. In general our editorial vision is about surfacing under-represented stories, and we want to be accessible while we do this. Our audience is smart, but they are not experts on every topic. We will never talk down to them but will give them the context they need.

Our audience is connected 24/7 and they want to know immediately. Even more importantly they want to know why it matters to them and we will deliver that first. What’s key is that through all of this we have a sophisticated platform-by-platform strategy to make sure we are engaging our audiences in a way that makes sense for the medium.


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Mic at SXSW snapping live at the Kelly Rowland keynote as part of their multiplatform strategy- Photograph courtesy of Mic

Mic publishes all its articles to Facebook’s Instant Articles, how is this strategy working?

Yes, we are 100 percent in on Facebook Instant Articles and we’re pleased across the board. Any time there is a platform that can offer a more performant experience for our users, we are all ears -- especially on mobile. With over 75 % of our audience being on mobile, this really matters to us.

Are you able to monetise and track the article you publish on Facebook’s Instant Articles?

We are able to do both, yes. And as Facebook rolls out new functionalities, we quickly implement and test these pieces as well. We are optimistic in general.

And what about Google AMP?

AMP is another opportunity to deliver our mobile users a lightning-fast experience. Search is a healthy driver of traffic to Mic and we want to do everything we can to optimize this way. It’s going well for us and we’re seeing some early successes on it, especially around our campaign coverage. This is encouraging because it means users are looking for stories on the election. For Mic that’s meaningful -- it further proves our theory that young people DO care about substantive news.

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In this article published on Fortune you say: “There are a number of ways of measuring reach, whether it’s clicks or shares. But how does one measure trust?” How would you answer to this questions yourself?

I think when, as a news organisation, you are delivering to your audience something that satisfies their curiosity and answers their questions in a way that speaks to them, you start to gain that. And then when you help them understand the changing world by giving them news in a way that’s relevant to them they start coming back. Our audience is frustrated by a media that doesn’t seem to get it and is out of touch with young people’s realities. Our mission is to elevate our generation’s voices. We do that by always telling it how it is and finding the counter narrative on the moments that matter. If you listen to your audience and respond, you will gain trust.

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Photograph courtesy of Mic

Mic has elaborated a new reader engagement metric that it calls, “Impact.” Can you talk a little bit about it?

Existing metrics don’t distinguish between engaged readers and indifferent readers. As of now, someone leaving after two seconds and someone reading a full article, sharing it, and becoming a loyal Mic reader both count equally as one pageview or unique visit. That’s not good enough and we think we can do better than that for Mic, but also for the industry at large.

The quick version on how we are getting to Impact is that right now we are running a series of reader surveys (above) on our site that asks readers how satisfied they are after they finished an article. After we gather enough data through our surveys we will be matching up that data with metrics that think matter like time spent and social shares. If they are aligned, that’s great. If not, we have more digging to do to get to true Impact. This is an important initiative for us. We believe it will help us grow a more meaningful and engaged audience over time.

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What other metrics do you use at Mic?

We look at every single metric available to us. From video starts to completion, social shares, time spent and all of the platform metrics we can gather. Internally we have sophisticated dashboarding that helps us monitor and make sense of all of it. Most importantly, though, the insights we gather need to be actionable. So we are spending a lot of time making sure we are not just sending around numbers for the sake of it. Again, it all goes back to Impact.

The Wall Street Journal just reported that Mic has acquired the mobile video app Hyper. Can you tell us what are Mic plans for this?

Personally this is one of the most exciting initiatives of my career – mobile video is the future, there is no doubt about that. Video has always been important and the platforms have finally caught up thanks to mobile. Just consider how much we are consuming every day this way. On Hyper we can’t lay out specifics yet, but do stay tuned, you’ll want to watch this one!

What do you think about the rise of the so called "Dark social" and of chat apps?  Is Mic planning to use these apps to reach its audience? How?

Dark social is real and rising and chat apps are an important piece of that. We just launched a bot on Kik last week (screenshot below) and have plans to build a couple more this month. We’re looking at every single messaging application and figuring out how that aligns with the stories we are telling and how we can reach new audience this way. We’re optimistic that this will be a meaningful part of our audience in the future.

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What do you expect from 2016? What will be the most interesting trend that we will see explode this year? VR, Chat apps, Drone journalism…?

My quick list:

  • Live (Facebook, Periscope, etc.)
  • 360 video as a start to VR proper
  • Chat apps
  • Mobile video as the primary consumption vehicle for news and information

What’s the most innovative trend you are seeing going on right now that might change the future of journalism?

I think Facebook Live is going to change the game in real-time access. Live video is not even close to new, but the scale, reach and always-connectedness of Facebook has the power to change how we learn about the world in real time.  


Cory Haik will speak at the sixth annual GEN Summit in Vienna, Austria, next June, on how Mic wants to become The New York Times for millennials. Book your tickets here.