Kiki Von Glinow is the Founder & CEO of Toast Media Group. She has started this company and the Norman project, after discovering key insights on how underserving Gen Z audiences and influencer distribution are related, during her time at HuffPost.
In this episode, we explore these themes.
Vahe Arabian: Welcome to The State of Digital Publishing Podcast. The State of Digital Publishing is an online publication and community uncovering the latest information and trends in new media subscriptions. This is episode eight and we’re speaking with Kiki Von Glinow, CEO of Toast Media Group. Hi Kiki, how are you?
Kiki Von Glinow: I’m good, how are you doing?
Vahe Arabian: I’m not too bad thanks. How is everything in New York with the industry and publishing scene there at the moment?
Kiki Von Glinow: It’s very, it’s an interesting time right now I think for a lot of digital publishers, Facebook is kind of rocking their world in big ways but I think over the past few years those shake-ups from platforms have always led to innovation from a lot of different publishers. So I think it’s an exciting time for sure.
Vahe Arabian: A lot of people are now trying to take a platformless approach, I spoke with someone from India who’s doing the same thing, and when I found your website and what you guys are doing it’s like your doing something similar, trying to take a platformless approach as well. But I guess for those people who don’t know much about you, sorry just before I say that everyone Kiki used to work for Huffington Post for six years and now she started her own company called Toast Media, so now she’s taking on another platformless approach as well. I’ll just pass it to you to give you the opportunity to give a background about what Toast Media is about.
Kiki Von Glinow: Sure. Toast Media is a contextualized commerce company, serving under served Gen-Z audiences. To put that more simply, we are a network of shopping recommendation apps for niche teen communities. So the one that we’re launching with this spring is called Norman, and it serves the gender fluid community. So it’s a genderless shopping recommendation app as well as having some enterprise features and feature writing within it, for people who don’t believe that gender has a place when it comes to great style. Speaking of that platform approach, Norman is one of many apps that we’ll have in the future serving these different audiences. I think we take a platform first approach without reliance on those platforms, which is, I think has gotten a lot of publishers including my previous place of work at HuffPost in trouble with really fully relying on the platforms for distribution. Instead, we are going to really, we’re going to an influencer distribution pretty much only. We’re not going to have any Norman branded accounts on any social media channels but really take a people first approach on these platforms.
Kiki Von Glinow: I guess one of the reasons we really went that route is because, as I’m sure a lot of you saw, as Instagram became super popular, a lot of publishers who had developed followings on Snapchat were now like, “Okay great, now I have to start all over again on a new platform” whereas people who were switching from Snapchat to Instagram really just took their following with them. You couldn’t, there were a lot of celebrities who went from Snapchat to Instagram as a main distribution platform for themselves as well as influencers. We really saw audiences following people across platforms and not brands so much, so Toast Media Group, all of our properties, will have an influencer first, a people first approach to distribution on these platforms.
Vahe Arabian: With this podcast being about Gen-Z publishing, is that why you’ve seen this trend? Is that mostly because of the Gen-Z consumer behavior that’s going on or is that something generally that’s happening?
Kiki Von Glinow: Totally I really to, what I kind of live by when it comes to developing these new brands that we’re creating within Toast Media is that brands aren’t cool, people are cool. Especially when it comes to Gen-Z, connecting and having a feeling of personal or intimate connection with a brand, and I’m saying brand, but I really think it’s the people behind those brands that are making them successful with Gen-Z these days. I think a lot of e-commerce brands have done this really well and I’ve taken a lot of cues from those brands to how we’ll structure my company as a media company.
Kiki Von Glinow: For example, let’s see Glossier is a beauty company that was launched out of a beauty blog, and there’s a woman behind that company she’s the CEO named Emily Weiss and she very much is the face of Glossier, it very much has her persona in everything she does. She is a very integral part to the interaction with the customer. I think that’s how I kind of have been thinking about structuring our media company, so that people are really the touchpoints with us as a brand and not the brand being the first touchpoint where then you kind of discover people within it.
Vahe Arabian: So coming to that point about your inspiration, is that something that you figured out while you were with Huffington Post, or did you just stumble upon a blog and then maybe you gained inspiration out of your own time? Where did the inspiration branch out of?
Kiki Von Glinow: It really did come from Huff Post. One of the, I was the head of growth and analytics at HuffPost and that meant overseeing what most companies call audience development so that was social media, SEO, analytics, email marketing, and as well as an experimental labs team. It was really cool within that labs team to try really new things and pull in those other teams that were part of our group to experiment with them. One thing that we did that was super successful and absolutely got me thinking about this kind of way of structuring something, was the launch of a bunch of non-HuffPost branded Facebook communities. They were platform first for sure, and we really let the audience that we were going after dictate the content we created. Often a lot of digital media companies you see will create new verticals or new brands but really they’re just repackaging content they were already creating under a new umbrella.
Kiki Von Glinow: An example of what we did at HuffPost was we saw that a few articles here and there that the HuffPost Lifestyle team was writing about introverts and introvert lifestyle, little comics, funny things, about introverts were doing really really well. We kind of dug into that a little bit deeper and said who’s really serving introverts in an explicit way and no one really was so we created a Facebook Group called “Canceled Plans”, absolutely no Huff Post branding on it or anything like that. That Facebook Group ended up performing like 18 times better in terms of engagement, engagement raw numbers, than our legacy HuffPost Lifestyle Facebook page. That’s when I started really thinking, what does it look like to create a people first, an audience first brand that is really derived from an audience instead of created for an audience. If that makes sense.
Vahe Arabian: That entirely makes sense. I guess, a quick thing that came to my mind was, if you’re making a group that is not Huffington Post branded but their employees are running it, is there a line between, do they know it’s being run by …
Kiki Von Glinow: Yeah, on all Facebook pages there’s a little about section that we 100% disclosed that this was a product of Huffington Post but we didn’t want to beat people over the head with HuffPost. We weren’t trying to use HuffPost to get people to follow it as kind of like, oh this is legitimate this is HuffPost, we really wanted it to be something that very specific people who were very much a part of that target demo came across and said, oh wow this is for me. We shared down the line HuffPost links on it and things like that, so I definitely, I’m sure people kind of understood it was part of HuffPost at that time but really, in the beginning, was just an engagement place. We weren’t even putting HuffPost links on it. We weren’t trying to monetize it in any way we were just trying to grow an authentic community and that’s what we did, which was great.
Vahe Arabian: I’m really fascinated about communities at the moment as well because there’s even a stat, for example from Facebook I’ve seen, where, for every one person that shares you get another seven people sharing it. I can see how much impactful groups are. Especially these …
Kiki Von Glinow: Totally.
Vahe Arabian: I think it’s going to be a big focus this year. So if we can go into a bit of detail, what’s the steps and processes around being able to create these groups and how do you find the micro influencers within these groups? How do you find them and get them on board and to become an advocate of your group?
Kiki Von Glinow: Mm-hmm (affirmative) In the case of Norman and why we chose that community to go after, the gender fluid community, or the community that was interested in a gender-neutral style, was actually just through a lot of Gen-Z research. When I was at Huff Post I was also lucky enough or it really helped this future endeavor that I’m working on now, I was leading our Gen-Z acquisitions and research team for AOL, which owns Huff Post, so through that I really got to see what are the real trends within Gen-Z.
Kiki Von Glinow: One thing I really started to pick up on was they are really incredibly progressive in a lot of things, and what they expect from brands, and the transparency they expect, and the social good that they expect from brands, as well as kind of how they think about themselves. Individuality is something that, while as a Millennial when you were growing up you really wanted to fit in you didn’t want to stand out, Gen-Z is really excited about standing out and being unique. I really started diving into that thread a little bit more and saw through different studies and we’re also doing focus groups and digital surveys, things like that at Huff Post for the Gen-Z community. They started talking about gender and how it doesn’t define someone.
Kiki Von Glinow: That’s when I started really just kind pulling that thread of, okay how does this young generation think about gender and how does that apply to style. From there what really got me starting to think that this was something that could be an influencer driven distribution model was just like going down the rabbit hole of hashtags on Instagram. There’s so many different hashtags for this community, and that’s really how I’ve actually developed our whole army of influencers who are interested in supporting Norman. It was really just going through hashtags finding people who were really a target audience for us or someone who had the following of the target audience that we’re going after. Instagram has that amazing little down arrow you can click next to someone’s profile and it shows you more people like them.
Kiki Von Glinow: That’s really how we cultivated our list of ambassadors, influencers that we’ll be working with at launch for us. Just reaching out via Instagram myself, the response rate I had, I had close to 100% response rate of people who are interested in working with us on Norman because it is so mission aligned to their values, who they are, their personality.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think that’s absolutely key if you are interested in developing an influencer marketing program is not going after people who are tangentially related to your mission or what you are trying to do but very spot on associated with it. We’re also not going after influencers with 100,000 followers. We’re really doing the micro-influencer, going the micro-influencer route with that.
Vahe Arabian: I think you’re definitely on point. I’ve seen it from my end as well like, people who I’ve done interviews with myself, I’ve published articles myself, but based on my experience there’s a lot of interviews based on State of Digital Publishing by people who have big followings but you see no reaction from their communities, but people who don’t have a big following but have very close connections in the industry who endorse them, you see a better reaction from them. I definitely agree with you that on the micro-influencer approach on that.
Vahe Arabian: If you can just take a step back, how’s your current day to day and your structure around Toast Media currently, how is that now?
Kiki Von Glinow: We’re a small team, I have a co-founder, I have a tech lead, and one developer so some of those people still have full-time jobs so we’re working on this at night and every night we have a ten PM meeting where we kind of go over what we’ve accomplished that day and set the tone for the next day and what we’re trying to do. We’re very much in like beast mode right now trying to get out the gate for an alpha launch of the end of March. We’ll have that alpha launch just be for influencers and maybe 2,000 target users that we’ve identified via Instagram to offer them. We are subscription-based, but we’ll offer them a free access to Norman to give us feedback before public launch. But right now it’s recruiting freelancers, it’s making partnerships with brands that we’ll be promoting, it’s doing a lot of content calendar creating. I started as a journalist at HuffPost but haven’t been as close to the content in quite some time so it’s been really exciting for me to get back to that side of things as well.
Kiki Von Glinow: Right now I’m doing a bit of everything trying to make sure we have launch day and marketing plans in place as well as kind of a sustained marketing strategy and also starting to think about what we want to look for in terms of investment from outside sources as well.
Vahe Arabian: I’m sure you’re stretching yourself a bit. I know you said your the middle of everything, but at the same time, I think it might be exciting to stretch yourself again because when you were in your role at the previous company you were sort of limited to what you can do there, it’s role based. While now, you’re just making this your own, so I’m sure that’s very exciting.
Kiki Von Glinow: It’s super exciting. Yeah. I think the thing that’s difficult is I had a great team at HuffPost, if you had a big idea, you could pull in a couple different people to help you execute it, whereas, as you heard it’s a team of four of us so it’s definitely there are not enough hours in the day for sure. But that’s why you’ve got the alpha and then the beta and then you keep growing with it.
Vahe Arabian: A lot of quick iterations I guess, just to make it work quick as you can otherwise it’s just going to be a lag process I guess.
Kiki Von Glinow: Oh yeah, totally. Yeah.
Vahe Arabian: And is your co-founder and your team are they related, did you meet them within the industry or they somehow have a relationship with your past or …
Kiki Von Glinow: They’re all people I’ve met through the industry, yes. So no one that I hadn’t kind of worked with in some capacity before, which is great to kind of, you know there’s a lot of trust that’s needed with an initial team to have a similar vision to you and to trust you and your vision. It was kind of, I know a lot of people who’ve found new partners who they haven’t worked with before and have great success with that but I think it was important to me to really kind of know how these people worked, and feel comfortable with them, and know that they’re the people to execute the vision. And they’ve also brought a lot to the vision, which has been awesome.
Vahe Arabian: How important is it for you to have those people now given that you’re looking for brand partnerships and how are you proposing the value proposition, how are people buying into Norman, especially given that it’s not live yet? How do you show that potential promise to them?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think it’s just by talking about kind of the authenticity we’re going for, in terms of speaking with other brands, a lot of whom are within the style space and we probably aren’t going to have any of those partnerships live for our alpha by any means. It’s really just brands that are explicitly creating textiles, products, for this community. They don’t have distribution, and they also don’t have the buy-in from large retailers when it comes to this genderless movement, this movement kind of evolving past gender. So they really look to us as kind of somewhat of a beacon of hope to say this could be a great distribution platform for us to reach the community that we’re trying to reach.
Kiki Von Glinow: We also think about it as a two-way street too. There aren’t a ton of brands out there creating products explicitly for this community so we want them to succeed as well because we need to bring those products to our audience. I think it’s definitely a mutually beneficial thing and that’s why we’ve been able to kind of create those partnerships and get those things to be part of the ethos of Norman. That kind of help, everyone’s kind of working towards the same goal I guess.
Vahe Arabian: Understood. So, I guess, there’s two different thought models, opinions of thought about publishing. There’s the vertical and there are publishers out there that try to do anything and everything and they try to be as layered as possible. It seems to me more that you’re going more towards vertical, do you think that you’re taking a vertical approach and you’re going to eventually go to other different, when you create the other properties are they going to be very similar or are they going to be …
Kiki Von Glinow: They’ll be similar in the mission of serving an underserved audience and not going for scale but instead going for depth with that audience. We absolutely want to replicate the success that we can create with Norman for other audiences. We’ve actually really thought about the different audiences we’ll go after as driven by kind of personality. One thing I know I mentioned, that HuffPost group for introverts that we created, we would love to create a shopping experience for introverts. We’d love to create one for Type A personalities. People with anxiety. The shopping experience really looks different for each of them and their needs are different so that’s kind of how we are thinking about building out more verticals. Less so in a, for me vertical is almost kind of I don’t know it’s been somewhat of a dirty word, where you just create another section that is just putting content you would have had anyway under a different banner.
Kiki Von Glinow: We really think about them as community driven, less like this is just another vertical under a bigger umbrella. In each of these cases we will do massive amounts of research and kind of infiltrate those communities and see what do they need, are they being served, and if they are being served we’ll move to the next one. But really let the audience kind of inform where we go next but we’re certainly looking to Norman to create somewhat of a play book for those future audiences. From the distribution strategy with influencers, to the business model, to all of that I think those kind of things will stay pretty similar between the properties but a lot of the other things will change. Obviously, branding will change for each one and things like that.
Vahe Arabian: How do you see the difference between being mission to serve the underserved mission, under serving communities versus verticals that are more topic driven or solid industry driven? What do you think the difference is between that and the advantages and disadvantages in general?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think the difference for me and kind of what we model Toast Media after is more verticals that are more topic-centric, the content informs the audience, so you create content and then you go find an audience to serve it to, I am writing about tech and then I go find a community that’s into new gadgets. What we’re doing the community kind of verticalization of that is more like these are people who are people who are dissatisfied with the way they are doing something, so in our case the way that they are exploring and discovering new products, so let’s create something that’s explicitly for those people. That’s also really derived from a lot of research we’ve done about Gen-Z, they in a lot of ways are verticalizing themselves. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of something called a finsta, so a fake Instagram. A lot of teens have multiple Instagrams, one that’s their name and what they pretend is their real Instagram but then they five or six other Instagrams that are representations of different parts of their personality, or intended for different friend groups.
Kiki Von Glinow: We’re really trying to appeal to model ourselves in that same way. There are so many different parts to every person, so we’re just trying to appeal to a part of them, that’s very like an intimate part of them rather than just something that they have an interest in. If that makes sense. Also, I think with Gen-Z a big part of it was their attention span is something like six or eight seconds, so being explicitly for them immediately is super important to having a shot at having a relationship with them. If they kind of have to decode who is this really for, I know I’m really interested in tech but like, I’m 18 and I don’t have the same kind of spending power as a 30 year old who’s interested in tech. We very much want to be explicitly for them and we feel like we can do that if we are driving content from that very very niche person that we’re creating it for.
Vahe Arabian: There’s being very narrow and there’s also being niche. How do you make sure that you find the balance in doing that because with a topic based product, like we said, you find content and then try to serve it to an audience. You can, generally speaking, find data and information around that, how do you find the challenge of being very niche at the moment?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think a lot of it has to do with our business model. A lot of publishers today, let’s say have that, take HuffPost Tech, for example, I mean HuffPost at one point had fifty different verticals and now they have fewer but still quite a few. They are playing a scale game. That’s just how their business model works. Whereas we are subscription based so we almost have the luxury of being able to be niche and not have to have massive scale because we actually, our users are our revenue drivers for us.
Kiki Von Glinow: We feel like having that relationship with them where they have been able to recognize that we’re explicitly for them and that we will provide an explicit value for them with that initial app download, that we’ll be able to go deeper with them in terms of monetization. Whether it’s live events, or products from us down the line, things like that. If we stay very niche that allows us to go deeper in monetization with users that we have rather than have a shallower monetization plan with a massive amount of users.
Kiki Von Glinow: So it really, I’m not faulting any publishers for having those topic based verticals …
Vahe Arabian: Being able to work a scale like you said in your vertical subscriptions say, I totally agree, I understand.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think if we weren’t subscription based, I’m not sure our concept would really work. If you were on an ad model and were going for a super niche audience, I think that would be tricky. To sustain yourself for sure.
Vahe Arabian: With the verticals, this is for people that don’t know much about vertical publishing and how the landscape is. There are some publications, like Elite Daily and you said Glossier as well, which are the first publications that took charter tech or a niche product channel, what are your thoughts about the past and current landscape of vertical publishing?
Kiki Von Glinow: Vertical publishing isn’t anything new, every magazine house all the different titles they have, those are verticals, and to me verticals just mean how a publisher … Honestly, I think it’s more for a publishers internal organization than it really reflects how their users experience. I don’t think users are often like, I’m really into this section of the Wall … You know it depends. But for HuffPost at least, let’s say. I don’t think users were like I’m obsessed with HuffPost Tech, I think it was more like, I go to Huff post and I find stuff that I like.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think it’s kind of always been around, I think publishers like Mic, let’s say, they recently or maybe I don’t know maybe like a year ago ish, rebranded a lot of their sections to be unique brands. So within Mic they have, like, The Strut, and Slay, and an entertainment one, I’m trying to think what that’s called, Hype, I think that’s called.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think it’s interesting the way publishers are starting to say, maybe this isn’t just a subtopic but it’s another identity within our brand. Or like for example, like with Thrillist, let’s say, those are all divided by locals. Geography-based verticals. I think there’s definitely merit to it, I think it again just depends on your goals. I think, for example with Mic, they basically just renamed their section but it didn’t seem like the actual strategy changed as much. They’re much more platform first I would say but now they’re kind of introducing new brands to people who might not know why those brands changed. Also, when you have their feminist kind of women’s empowerment one, Slay, that’s still a very broad topic. I think publishers are getting there, from going to be very generalist to more niche but I think it’s still for a large part just renaming previous sections.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think there are some, a few Gen-Z products, two actually that are email in the form of email only, which I think is really interesting. Clover Letter and Lenny Letter, are two different email products for young women, Gen-Z women, even Girl Boss to an extent, which is a very career, female empowerment centric offering for, I think maybe they’re more Millennial than Gen-Z. But I think those are actually really interesting ways companies are creating verticalized products that are for a very specific audience and not even coupled with something else. Clover Letter for example, there’s no other, it’s not side by side with something else, or something for a different community, it really that’s what it is soup to nuts.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think publishers are getting there but I think it’s real difficult to shake that legacy, verticalization kind of for the sake of verticalization. I do think they’re moving away from the sake of it just internal structure to be something that is more user-facing but I think they’re still a ways to go there.
Vahe Arabian: Vertical publishing was the first type to become more specific to come along. Magazine publishing, like you said, every company might have different verticals, a magazine house was almost more general so that first step in going vertical brought in a lot more revenue, I guess. So like you said, I think it’s time to shake it off. Taking time to shake off things and trying to …
Kiki Von Glinow: That’s what I learned a lot at HuffPost, and while we weren’t perfect at it, I think a question we often asked ourselves was if HuffPost started today, what would it look like? It probably wouldn’t look like different sections because that means nothing to a user and again a lot of that was informed by companies saying, here’s what our internal structure will look like, we’ll have a business desk, and a politics desk, so what that translates to is a business section and a politics section. I think getting away from having internal structure and operations dictate what that external product looks like. It’s surprising that it’s taken this long to kind of start moving away from that.
Vahe Arabian: It is. A lot of people have said publishing’s not going to survive like even, it’s still survived, it’s still got a need. It’s a beast in itself I think.
Kiki Von Glinow: Yeah, totally.
Vahe Arabian: A thing that came to my mind, and I remember recently HuffPost recently closed down their contributor section and now they’ve got just stories or opinions by vetted professional writers rather than giving the opportunity to other people to be able to do that. Would you consider ever allowing, I know you’re focusing on products and it’s not directly related to what you are doing, but was there any thoughts around trying to take that similar approach, and just trying to niche it to a specific user, like you’re doing with now Norman? To kind of take that to Norman?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think the contributor model on HuffPost was super integral and really innovative when HuffPost first started. I think it also led, and I also was not there when they, I think that was the beginning of this year that they closed the contributor model. I wasn’t there for it. From my experience there, there’s a lot of noise that comes in with, when you open a platform up and really only a few things here and there are really things that are super quality that resonate with an audience. I would definitely, when it comes to Norman, not just make it a free for all contributor platform but it’s so important to us that all of the content that is created for Norman is created by people within the community. That really extends to how we are looking for freelancers. I think when it comes to the influencers that we’re recruiting we certainly would accept essays or write-ups about their favorite products or brands to publish on Norman. I don’t think we’re looking at an open contributor model at this point.
Kiki Von Glinow: Part of that is also, at Huff Post, the blog team that ingested all those contributions from the community, that was a massive team. That’s like major resources to put against editing and fact-checking those kinds of things, you can’t just publish anything that someone writes. I think that’s definitely something we’ve thought about in the context of an open contributor platform just the massive amount of resources that goes into making it quality. Which is not something that we have the luxury of at this point.
Vahe Arabian: Yeah. It probably would be better to focus on recruiting rather than just try to keep it a free for all because like you said …
Kiki Von Glinow: I think we want to be really deliberate in everything we do, so every story we write we really want it to serve the community in a really impactful way. We don’t want a lot of noise on the app, and that’s kind of the same way we’re thinking about the audience. We’re not trying to get people to download Norman who aren’t really a core demo for us. We want it to be very deliberate audience and a deliberate product that we’re serving them.
Vahe Arabian: Don’t you hate sometimes though how that urge of that, I want reach an audience quickly so I need to get more people on the platform when, I need to do more. Sometimes you might consider trying to get more people for the sake of it. Have you ever experienced that or …
Kiki Von Glinow: Coming from HuffPost, I have no doubt that those thoughts are going to go through my mind. It was literally my job at HuffPost to get as many people using HuffPost as possible, but I think, just being frank, that’s where I saw a lot of the pitfalls of HuffPost. Those kind of cheap, not cheap, tactics. They were always organic ways of getting new people to HuffPost and smart strategies, for sure, but I saw how that diluted the brand, I guess. When we would talk about who’s the HuffPost user, who’s the reader, there was never ever an answer for who that person was. It was anyone really. I think there will certainly be times where I’m like, oh god we need 50% more downloads this month let’s just put a bunch of Facebook ads out there and see who we get, but that’s, it’s just that we wouldn’t be fulfilling our mission if we did that. That’s just something that I’m, as much as I’m going to want to try use my old HuffPost tactics with Norman. I need to kind of distill those into how does this actually apply to our business. It’ again, a very different business than HuffPost.
Vahe Arabian: So how are you making sure that you’re making progress? What kind of measurements, and measures, and even KPIs that you’re putting in place to help you see a progression.
Kiki Von Glinow: So, I mean, we’re at pre-launch right now. I am so excited to actually launch with this alpha group, to actually start getting some real data back to see how they’re using Norman and how they’re navigating. So we have a lot of different success metrics we’ll be looking at once we’re actually live with the app.
Kiki Von Glinow: At this point, in terms of kind of setting milestones for ourself and our progress, a lot of it is recruiting really quality freelancers from the community to work on some pretty awesome enterprise pieces that we want to launch with. Making headway on that front is big for us, and really starting to fill the boxes of our launch editorial calendar is big. The other major thing is just recruiting the influencers, we want to launch with about a million in distribution of those influencers networks. That will probably be a couple hundred or maybe a thousand influencers that we’ve onboarded, so out the gate we can say to them, press go Norman’s live, spread the word to your networks. That’s really time consuming but it’s a really tangible way to judge progress. I’ll say to myself, at the end of this week I want 300 more influencers on board and things like that.
Kiki Von Glinow: We also have our tech build happening right now, so there’s tons of road mapping and different ways we can kind of judge our progress by different features we’ve crossed of the list or the design implementation that we’ve done and things like that.
Vahe Arabian: So task driven, very similar to tech, and sentiment to what I sort of understood from what you’ve said, would you summarize it in that way?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think the feedback we’re getting through the influencer reach out we’re doing is two-fold. It helps us with our distribution model, good as well at also giving us real-time feedback. In the way that we’re talking about Norman to these influencers, the way that we’re putting it out there kind of in the wild. Like you said, a lot of narrative feedback as well as just task driven progress. We have Trello boards and slack and all that stuff that we’re constantly just telling each other, this is done, this is done, this is done. All day long.
Vahe Arabian: That makes sense to me. You mentioned the distribution model, so about the apps, are they going to be mobile apps? How do you see the current distribution model and how will it work moving forward?
Kiki Von Glinow: We will be an iPhone and Android app only we aren’t going to be launching with mobile web or desktop, especially for the demo that we’re going with. With teens, Gen-Z, we really know we had to be app based. The way the distribution model will work is, influencers will promote Norman via different kinds of marketing materials that we’ll give them or that they are absolutely free to create, or by distributing content. Everyone will get, I think, we’re still working out the onboarding process, but they’ll get kind of freemium thing, where you’ll get a number of free articles to begin upon download and then a paywall will emerge after that. We’ll also be looking to the influencers to circulate promo codes for three months free, things like this.
Kiki Von Glinow: We’re talking about a nominal fee, $2.99 a month, is kind of what we’re gonna be going with probably, we’ve done a lot of work with Gen-Z focus groups to say, what is a fee that works for you. They’re very comfortable with subscription models just because it’s something that they’ve grown up with. Spotify, and Netflix, and all that. Subscription models aren’t really a big deal for them. They aren’t the hurdle that they are for Millennials, let’s say.
Kiki Von Glinow: That’s how we’ll work to drive out influencers networks to the app. Through their own endorsement of it. We’ll also have each of the influencers that we recruit will have an opportunity to endorse specific products within the app. They will be able to drive their audience to the app to say, if want to look at my shopping list, or the things that I’m looking forward to for Spring fashion, something like that, go to Norman and you can check out my page on Norman.
Kiki Von Glinow: They will be very much integrated within Norman which incentivizes their followings, who I feel like they have an intimate connection with them, to go to Norman to learn more about those influencers that they know and trust.
Vahe Arabian: Would you not cusp for apps as part of mobile web or are you considering that they’re strictly as mobile phone use?
Kiki Von Glinow: Well it will be mobile only for sure upon launch. We’ll build out the mobile web and desktop post launch but we’re just launching with IOS and Android apps in app store.
Vahe Arabian: How are you going to be able to measure the success of the results that you want to get out from Norman? Are you going to use analytics, like Google Analytics, or is there specific other tracking mechanisms that you’re going to be using?
Kiki Von Glinow: In terms of our influencers, each of them will have unique tracking codes, deep linking tracking codes, to the app to see how users are becoming aware of Norman and actually who makes it through the onboarding process. Who actually makes it through the free articles and then converts to a download. We’ll have tracking for all of that. Within the app we’ll be doing a lot tracking around retention, how often are they coming back, what kind of areas, we have a couple different areas within the app that you can navigate, where are they spending most of their time, what kind of rabbit holes are they falling down, how are they navigating between these different sections. We’re going to have one section that kind of gamified so is that a big draw and do we build that out further.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think in the beginning for the alpha at least, we’re going to have a lot of, not Easter eggs, but little things here and there that we want to see, does this peek their interest and is this something that we should build out more. That’s what we’ll be doing a lot of the testing on in the beginning. A lot of A, B testing. Also more like anyone with an app is tracking, opens, retention, page views, all that kind of stuff, so we’ll have all of that in terms of analytics as well. Recirculation, all that stuff.
Vahe Arabian: That makes sense. I guess more looking forward, what do you see the trends in content commerce and leader mobile looking like? Where do you see it moving forward?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think contextualized commerce is really big for Gen-Z specifically, they really create a validation in the products that they purchase, but they also just want more reviews and recommendations. There’s just so much on the web right in terms of commerce, and while Millennials grew up with search and how to navigate that really easily, Gen-Z grew up in the age of push alerts, and notifications, and DMs, so they’re less adept at going out and finding what they want.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think especially commerce, e-commerce, commerce content brands who are looking to appeal to Gen-Z are going to be much more focused on curation, whereas a lot of Millennials right now are interested in algorithm and personalization and they can navigate those things on their own. I think Gen-Z wants a bit more of that curation back.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think goes to a couple cycles ago with how publishers were thinking about front pages, it used to be a very curated thing and for a lot of publishers now it’s just a set of algorithms that programs their front pages of their experiences. I think it’s coming a little bit full circle back to very recommendation driven, very curated experiences, for a younger audience when it comes to e-commerce. They’re looking for those cues from experts or brands, who can give that to them.
Vahe Arabian: I guess recommendations would need to be from close connections, or from “authoritative people” or bigger influencers. What are your thoughts around that? I’ve read things that people are less trusting of reviews because it’s not authentic or it’s just coming from …
Kiki Von Glinow: Right.
Vahe Arabian: People that are unknown.
Kiki Von Glinow: And that’s exactly why we are going with the influencer model. These are people that they feel like they know and trust pretty implicitly. They trust influencers way more than celebrities, celebrity endorsements don’t work with Gen-Z much. I think the only exception is the sports realm with younger teen boys but the influencers are people that they trust very explicitly. Getting recommendations from them I think does a lot of the work for us.
Kiki Von Glinow: Aside from that the people that are going to be creating the content for Norman are part of their community. So again, because we are serving that very niche community from and by that community, I think that trust because it is explicitly for them is going to be ingrained in the experience. It’s very much like that’s our goal. We’ll see come launch whether we’re successful with it but that’s the driving mission behind everything that we’re doing. Trust is so so important.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think that goes back to our mission of really serving this audience, I think it’s something like 85% of teens will trust a brand with a good social mission. It’s going to be ingrained in our experience to that we are supporting this community in a few different ways. So I think that will be helpful for us.
Vahe Arabian: So in terms of building a trust, how can we use technology or what kind of technology trends or innovations have you seen that would help with serving your mission? And in providing relevant product recommendations.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think the easy answer would be, personalization from a tech perspective. That said, I don’t think Facebook even has mastered, or Instagram has mastered personalization. I can’t tell you how many people I see complaining about their Instagram feeds and things like that. We are not attempting to personalize via an algorithm or tech solution, all of that will be hand done.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think in terms of tech we’re thinking more about the shopping experience. What does AR look like within our experience, and then again, that’s something that will certainly not be part of our NVP. We’re looking more towards tech in that way, how can we make the commerce experience something that’s really tangible and even increases that level of trust because you know what you’re going to get. That’s something that we’ve been talking about, we’re looking more about how to bring products and a shopping experience to people in an innovative way rather than playing with algorithm to guess what they want.
Kiki Von Glinow: I do think that element of discovery within a set of products or something that are all geared toward you, of course, you’re still going to have preferences within that but I think that delight upon discovery is important to us for sure. We don’t just want to serve you exactly what you want and mainly because there’s no way we could do that. We don’t know every person even within a niche community is different. We haven’t seen an algorithm from these massive platforms do it right yet so we’re not thinking about that level of tech implementation.
Vahe Arabian: Awesome. Have you heard of immersive journalism? It’s a new phrase I’ve heard from The New York Times last week the coverage of the Olympic Games they’re trying to use AR in creating immersive journalism. Have you ever heard of that or anything around that before?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think the Time’s has done some AR stuff in the past and there are definitely, like Audi the car brand, does really cool AR implementation when it comes to products. I know some digital brands, publishing brands, that are scratching the surface of it for sure. I haven’t seen anyone do it in a consistent or servicey way. Absolutely, journalism VR, AR all that kind of stuff that people are hopping on that in a big way and I think that’s awesome.
Vahe Arabian: How would you describe that for people that haven’t done it before? Is it journalists covering the story in their own time? Or how does it work?
Kiki Von Glinow: That could mean a lot of different things. That could mean really diving into a story on many different levels, it could, I think a lot of the big featurey stuff that the Times does as well as HuffPost has kind of an enterprise arm called Highline, I would call what they do also immersive journalism. I think immersive journalism is telling a story in a way that feels tangible to a reader and I don’t think that means it has to have AR or VR crazy technology. I think it’s just a storytelling technique. But I think when you can apply technology that makes sense for that story, not just for the sake of having cool tech involved in a story.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think more and more publishers are interested in doing that for the sake of differentiating themselves for innovating on the storytelling format. It went from photos in a piece, to video, to VR now, it’s just the next wave of how can we tell stories where someone feels empathy. I think a lot of immersive journalism is meant to generate empathy. At least with VR, that was the main goal for most journalists or publishers getting into VR was that empathy engine that that technology can create.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think immersive journalism to me doesn’t mean a specific type of package. It just means telling a story in a deeper way.
Vahe Arabian: In short watch your space, I think it’s going to be something which is rapidly evolving. I look forward to seeing it.
Kiki Von Glinow: Yeah very cool.
Vahe Arabian: I know that we’ve spoken about the exciting launch with Toast of Norman in March, what are the other plans that you have in works for this year.
Kiki Von Glinow: Oh my goodness. It’s hard to think post-launch right now.
Vahe Arabian: I feel you. Everything constantly changes so. I know it’s a bit hard, but what of your year?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think our goal this year is really to create a base of users who are in our target demo and really learn from them about how they’re using Norman. I think by the end of the year we’d like to have some ideas about what our next property is that we’re going to launch and have some pretty tangible success from Norman that we can apply to that next property. I think that’s certainly a goal of ours.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think, again, it’s really just getting Norman out in the wild and learning from that user base. It’s probably to soon to say that within the year we would start doing events for this community but that’s certainly something Gen-Z craves that, because so much of their world exists digitally they really crave that in-person connection with their peers. I think events are something that we 100% see being part of the TMG ecosystem. I think we’d love to start thinking about that by the end of the year, for 2019.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think it’s just going to be this year, heads down diving into insights and saying what’s working and how can we double down and whatever’s not working how can we tweak it or move on from it. We very much are a team luckily isn’t super attached to different ideas we come up with and blind to see how our actual audience interacts with them. We want to create something that is specifically for this audience and dictated by the audience.
Kiki Von Glinow: At the end of the day they’re our bosses. They’re going to dictate what’s working and what’s not and the next direction that we can go in. At this point we’re really, we’re heads down for launch and just so excited to get that feedback from the audience once we launch. That will really dictate a lot of how it evolves.
Vahe Arabian: Personally for you professionally wise, for this year, I’m going to talk to of course you want Toast to be successful but is there any areas of skill development or anything that interests you in your learning that you want to achieve as well?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think what I’ve learned so far from the business side of things, I was very … When I was at HuffPost I worked very closely with our business development team and our CEO to think about the business side of HuffPost, but I was by no means an expert on that side, it wasn’t my background at all. I just want to do a lot of learning and listening on that side of things. I think starting a new company I know the vision for TMG, I know our mission, I know the distribution model, and the content strategy plan, and the audience development plan, for it and I have a business model but I’ve been going to classes at General Assembly on how to do your own P&L and things like that. For me there’s going to be, it’s imperative that I really dive into that side of things more. I have a huge bookshelf full of business books that I’m working my way through. I definitely have a lot of learning to do on that front. That’s a big goal for me this year.
Kiki Von Glinow: In addition to that I’ve been talking to our accountant and our lawyer about different ways to set us up for success. There’s just a ton of learning there. When it comes to these different facets of starting a business that I have zero experience in. I think I just, my goal for myself is to really practice humility in those moments where I say, I really have idea what that means Mr. Lawyer, can you repeat that in a way that I can understand.
Kiki Von Glinow: I think that’s been a really exciting and humbling part of starting all of this. A goal for me this year especially to keep learning from people who are experts in this field. That’s one of the great things too about having been at Huff Post for so long I’ve met so many people not only within digital media but who are related to it, who know media but also have another expertise. I’ve been able to tap so many people in my networks to help me navigate all of this which has been really awesome. And I’m super thankful for it.
Vahe Arabian: No matter what happens, you’re going to get something out of it this year for sure.
Kiki Von Glinow: Yeah totally. And I think that’s the mindset to stick with too. No matter what happens I have learned so much so nothing but a good experience for sure. But hopefully, hopefully, we get, we see some success.
Vahe Arabian: I’m rooting for you as well.
Kiki Von Glinow: Thank you.
Vahe Arabian: Finally, just in terms of career progression and advice for those who are starting out or maybe want to branch out, seeing your success, which I’m rooting for you, dear. To see your success, how do you, what kind of progression advice can you provide them, career progression.
Kiki Von Glinow: It’s a good question. I think the biggest advice I can give would be don’t get stuck in a box that you created for yourself. One thing I’ve learned is that. Out of college, I went to school for journalism, out of school I was an entertainment reporter at HuffPost, I had no idea I’d end up being the Head of Growth and Analytics for HuffPost. If you told me that when I started as an entertainment reporter I’d be like, that’s ridiculous I want to be a writer. I think not not being afraid to follow interests that lead you away from what you thought you were going to do is super important.
Kiki Von Glinow: I don’t miss writing at all and I never thought I would have said that.
Vahe Arabian: Why is that?
Kiki Von Glinow: I think to often with young people that I have mentored or who were more junior at Huff Post, they often were afraid, or didn’t have the confidence to try something new. Even though it peaked their interest. I think don’t put yourself in a box, I think we often put ourselves in boxes more than other people put us in boxes. Try to not put yourself in a box. But also find a mentor that might not necessarily be in your specific department at your job, but who you just think is doing things that are cool or doing something in their own way or unique way and talk to them to see how they can help you navigate your career.
Vahe Arabian: I think what you said is a fundamental truth that everyone needs to realize because if you don’t get out of your box then, like you said, you’re not going grow, not going to be able to see what’s outside.
Kiki Von Glinow: It’s scary. Honestly, starting this company is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Absolutely, it’s very scary but nothing, what’s the phrase, nothing worth fighting for was easy, or whatever. It’s totally true though. Do something scary I guess. Would be my advice.
Vahe Arabian: Kiki, thanks again for joining me. I wish you all the best luck with the launch. Please keep us posted on how you are. So thank you very much for your time.
Kiki Von Glinow: Thank you so much, bye. This was great thanks.
Vahe Arabian: This was episode eight of The State of Digital Publishing podcast with Kiki Von Glinow.
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Vahe Arabian: Until next time.