The internet has provided our generation with an entire digital planet to explore, housing everything from the intricacies of user data to a warehouse of short films. Yet, the power of advertising has stigmatised what we view as engaging material, influencing how we search for content online.
Misan Harriman, founder of premium publishing network What We Seee (WWS), talks to The Drum about how the material we absorb shapes the way we view the world and why his platform is bypassing the conventional to provide the internet with extraordinary content.
What is WWS?
We are the leading curated content network that is dedicated to amplifying the extraordinary. I see us as a digital custodian of great art and the talent behind it.
Who is interested in WWS' content and who do you want to reach out to?
We reach an equal number of men and women, aged 18 – 54 across Europe and North America. When I started the business nearly two years ago, we thought it would appeal to an older audience, but interestingly our audience tends to begin at 18 and stays pretty steady up to mid-fifties. The premise of WWS was to see who would be interested in highly curated content delivered through social platforms, and it has educated us not to presume to know people’s tastes.
Anyone with an inquisitive mind is welcome. The problem is that most of us don’t know where to look, and that is the whole ethos of why I set up this business.
Where do you find your content?
Initially, we started approaching artists and film-makers that put all their time into the creative process, and we found that they were not interested in being influencers and Youtubers. They just wanted to share their passion. Unfortunately, a lot of that content ends up being seen by very few people. So we wanted to lean in and let them know that there is a network out there that will take that content and try to deliver it to an engaged and growing audience.
We now have a strong reputation and are sent content daily – everything from student poets to award-winning short films – which we are proud of. We also understand that everybody loves a cat video, so we do publish a small amount of viral-style videos to keep our organic growth healthy, but the DNA of what we do are hand-picked pieces of art in all forms.
You are receiving more content than you can publish each day. But do you ever know what you are looking for before you find it?
We’re not a current affairs business and we don’t look for trends. Generally speaking, I spend my free time watching films and listening to music and so does the WWS team. If something stops me in my tracks, I will ask one of my team to do an editorial story on it or contact the artist to do a rights deal if it is a video. If I see something that moves me in that way, my mission is to share it with the world so people can also experience it.
Many publishers delete posts that don’t test well, but WWS doesn't do that. It is paramount to us that good content gets published regardless of performance; we publish everything heart first.
The rise of influencers and social media means brands are becoming more involved with their customers. How does WWS interact with its followers?
A brand’s job is to communicate with their customers with an authentic voice, and social media has allowed consumers to use their collective voices to let the brands know when they get it wrong, as was evident in the recent Pepsi and Dove campaign controversies.
Brands are now very worried about how their message is perceived; beyond selling a product, they need to know that the customer is not offended by the message or lack of it. So from a brand’s perspective, having an authentic voice has never been more important; we’ll only publish something our audience will truly enjoy, and that is our DNA.
You say you are what you consume. What makes a healthy diet?
If you line up 20 school children and you play Maria Callas to them, many will not understand what language she is singing in or the tragic beauty of her life, but all of them will be moved by her voice, her genius. And that is why I say that you are what you consume – we let the content do all the talking.
Why is it important to feed this content to people?
I gave a talk in a prison recently; many of the men I met have never been exposed to the content that has shaped who I am. It was clear to me then how important the distribution of powerful content is. Our souls must be fed by film, music, and art in all forms, as it elevates us to become a better version of ourselves.
The internet has allowed WWS to become a virtual campfire of wonderful storytelling for millions and if it changes even one life, it will be worth all our efforts.
What is extraordinary content?
It is content that anyone would watch or listen to and have a truly powerful experience. Premium content is not just for those that have won the lottery of life; as far as I’m concerned, it is for anyone that has eyes and ears.
An example of a fantastic piece of content is ‘Mind The Gap’ by Luke Flanagan.
What makes this short film extraordinary is that Luke Flanagan has made a love letter to London that tenderly reminds us what matters most in life – this is exactly the type of content that must be seen by as many people as possible.
If you could offer any advice to those seeking extraordinary content, what would it be?
Always be inquisitive. In some small way WWS has taken the noise out of finding great content, but we must all never stop looking for it ourselves. Find ten new pages to follow on your chosen platform every week, watch lots and lots of short films on Vimeo and listen to the Desert Island Discs archive on BBC radio 4 to discover some wonderful music. That should get you started. Finally, I suggest you read this quote by Anais Nin once a month: “I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”