With Unilad only just rounding up its Facebook Live coverage of the Homeless World Cup, The Drum caught up with the publisher's co-founder to find out why it wants to open up a dialogue with young people about more serious issues.
Unilad is not a lads mag. The publisher’s co-founder and chief executive, 24-year-old Liam Harrington, made that clear earlier this year, when he told the Guardian: “Sites like ours are social enterprises that are catering to everyone, as opposed to the lads’ mags, which were catering to the niches.”
Over the past six months, Harrington, along with co-founder Sam Bentley, has been looking to build on this “social enterprise” function, creating content around pertinent issues affecting its young audience – like education, mental health and homelessness.
Unilad (not to be confused with now defunct and much complained about ‘lad culture’ website Unilad.com) was founded in 2014, at the time its content strategy was focused around sharing off-beat snippets from around the web to make its audience laugh (think: ‘Things Your Dad Doesn’t Understand About Modern Culture’) but its new found social consciousness is now helping it compete with the big boys of publishing.
Earlier this month, the team inked a deal to broadcast the Homeless World Cup on Facebook Live, marking the first time a publisher has ever used the real-time streaming platform to show an entire match. The tournament kicked off last weekend in Glasgow’s George Square, and with the finals in full swing today (16 July) The Drum caught up with Harrington and co to get an insight into the process and find out more about the brand’s future plans.
Appealing to Gen Y's serious appetite
A mixture of breaking news, mini-docs, features, viral videos and more, Unilad touts itself as being the most engaged-with Facebook page in the world. It boasts 15m likes on the social network, placing well ahead of mainstream publishers like the Guardian (6.1m) and the New York Times (11.5m) and in terms of online video attracts 1.7bn views a month. It’s little wonder then that brands like Warner Brothers and gaming giant Ubersoft have flocked to work with the Manchester-based outfit.
It’s mammoth audience on Facebook attracted the attention of the Homeless World Cup, and the partnership between the pair has reaped rewards for the tournament, with this year’s being declared the most “digitally connected” yet by organisers.
Coverage has also been broadcast on the competition’s website, YouTube EverSport and STV, with Unilad’s stream reaching a total of 3 million people worldwide, garnering half a million views.
Halfway through proceedings, the Homeless World Cup said it had noted a 1000 per cent increase in the number of people watching since last year’s event in Amsterdam.
Harrington said Unilad wanted to get involved with the initiative because it’s an issue that affects its, mainly male, Gen Y audience. “The lack of affordable housing and large private rentals mean young people across the UK are struggling,” he told The Drum.
He noted that the reaction has been widely positive among the site’s readers and followers.
“Of the 21,883 comments and shares the majority were positive thanking us for highlighting such an important cause.
“Lots of the comments were from people saying they themselves had been homeless and projects like the Homeless World Cup gave them hope for the future for others in their situation," he added.
Unilad started to see the value in doubling down on heavyweight stories last year after an article about 'The Dress', an anti-domestic violence ad from the Salvation Army, became one of the site's most shared stories ever.
"We're looking to venture further into serious content because we're lucky enough to have an audience that want to interact with serious issues. Our audience is engaged and want to change things therefore the content we put out has to reflect that whether it's funny or serious," said Harrington.
Investing in video
The site recently worked with men's mental health charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to raise awareness around its 10 year anniversary. The video Unilad created for the group in tandem with SBTV and rapper Jamal Edwards has clocked up over 500,000 views to date across YouTube and social.
Away from branded content, it's also been working on some mini-documentaries. In March, the team worked with the Royal Marines on a behind-the-scenes peek at one of its secretive training camps in Norway.
"It was amazing for the video team to see just what they go through to be ready for battle! I think the highlight was the team sleeping in an ice cave," added Harrington.
The publishers' head of video Liam Bagnall told The Drum that because Unilad is still independently owned its easy to get projects like this up and running. Harrington, meanwhile, asserted that the majority of the Unilad's content is now created in house and gone are they days when viral videos make up the bulk of its coverage.
Both Unilad, and rival Lad Bible have been crticised in the past by Reddit and YouTube users for seemingly lifting and sharing content, but Unilad is trying to shift this perception by dealing with contributors on a one-on-one basis before reposting videos or pictures.
As for livestreaming, Harrington claimed this is something his company will be "heavily investing in going forward."
"We want to get it right though," he continued, "so we are working on preparing unique content now that our audience will enjoy soon! We'll be kicking off with Q&A's with a difference. Watch this space..."