The story of Storykit is the tale of how a fundamental shift in content consumption has created the need for new storytelling technology. Let our founder and CEO Peder Bonnier tell it.
It’s hard to trace the beginning. I want to say that Storykit started with a Broccoli Sandwich. Or that the seeds were planted already sometime back in 2011 at Visualiseringscentrum C in Norrköping (but that is Fredrik’s story to tell — not mine). The truth, I guess, is that ideas — as well as companies — evolve over time, compound, and eventually become something better and more sophisticated than what you had imagined at the outset. That is the case for Storykit as well. Let me try to describe, at length, what led to us to build Storykit in the first place and what it is we are trying to achieve.
An old new world — how social changed everything
CEO and founder
The need for a new storytelling platform has primarily been driven by a fundamental change in how content, communication and advertising is consumed.
1. The rise of social content discovery
In the fall of 2012, I was running digital for Bonnier Tidskrifter with Robert and Fredrik, as we saw the world of internet publishing changing. We had been doing really well with editorial SEO and designing sites for premium ad impressions, but in a period of 8 months, between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2013, consumer behavior shifted dramatically — away from desktop towards mobile and away from search towards social discovery. The change was primarily driven by Facebook deciding to be a mobile company and expanding from a network for friends and family, to a much wider network for content distribution. Smartphones were abundant (in Sweden). Bandwidth was readily available and cheap. Up until that point publishing content to the Internet had been a technically pretty straightforward proposition: Use a CMS where the production environment is tightly linked to the environment where content is published (site), publish articles or blog posts to a site, and then wait for people to come, either because you have a loyal following, or because you have optimized your content for being discovered by search engines. To analyze the results of your publishing activities, or to try and predict what and how you should be publishing next, all you needed was some sort of script on your site that counted how many users you attracted and how they consumed your content. But now — in the fall of 2012 — all of these premises changed rapidly and radically. And it was driven by the fact that people started discovering content, and eventually also consuming content, in social apps instead of on sites. So, in 2014, Robert and Fredrik and I started KIT with an obsession around figuring out what tools, editorial processes and monetization models would win in a world where, as a content producer, you could no longer expect to control the environment, place or time where your content was consumed.
2. The democratization of content distribution
Another fundamental change with social distribution of content was that it suddenly gave ”everyone” (I will hopefully qualify this later in this text — a text that is already becoming way to long) a chance at getting their stories in front of massive audiences, if only the content was good enough. In the world of print, the companies that controlled distribution (newspapers and magazines) had been gatekeepers of who could reach audiences, and even though digitization had allowed anyone to become a publisher, attracting large scale audiences was still limited to the companies that had either a substantial inflow of direct traffic to their sites (which had often taken years and millions of dollars to build) or who had enough great content and patience to build distribution through organic search (SEO). Social changed all of this. Suddenly any great story could get wings of its own and reach audiences on a massive scale, and with relatively small budgets for boosting content distribution, getting your content in front of the right audience was cheaper than ever. Again — and this is key to our reasoning — the costs of distribution (whether paid or organic) was and still is deeply linked to the quality of the content produced. The social plattforms were aligned with the consumers here — the better the content, the more people like it, the more inclined the social platforms would be to distribute it cheaply. For marketers and advertisers this presented a new exciting opportunity — if only the content they produced was as relevant and interesting as that of publishers they could compete on equal terms for distribution. This had never before happened, and has since spurred huge competition, innovation in storytelling, and ever more competitive feeds with more relevant and interesting content being produced by non-publishers than ever before.
3. The impact for marketers: From planner to producer
The third large scale shift connected to social has been the change of how marketing departments are staffed and how the marketing role has changed in the last 5 years. When I was fresh out of university and started at an entry level marketing role at Unilever, the marketing role essentially was one of project management. We worked in Excel — not Indesign. Every year, we planned and coordinated a few large campaigns in traditional media (predominantly TV) and a larger amount of tactical campaigns in store but we did not actually produce anything. Production and creative development was done exclusively by agencies (either local or international) developing ideas and ad executions alike. This was possible with the frequency of campaigns we had — everything was large scale, there was significant investment involved in a campaign and once launched there was essentially no turning back. But with an increasing amount of channels needing an increasing amount of content on more or less a daily basis, the days of a marketer being a project manager are passed. There is simply too much cost in coordinating and communicating with an external agency on every tweet, facebook comment or Instagram Story that needs to be produced. So marketing and communication departments are increasingly staffing with producers instead of project managers, either organized as in-house departments or through simply shifting competencies in the roles they already staff. Agencies still play a significant part in creative strategy, and execution when the campaign is a large scale outdoor och TV campaign. But for social, and for content in general, there is simply too much frequency, too much production, and planning cycles are just too short to rely on an outside contractor.
All of this change was essentially due to Facebooks original decision to be a network for ”more than your friends” and a truly mobile company. It was for this shiny new world that we set out to build a platform that would support storytellers who wanted to tell stories for a distributed world. And it was that platform that we now call Storykit.
Building a content creation platform for the social world
We realized early that traditional CMS would not support a “distributed first” publishing mindset and that a modern platform for content creation would have to fulfill three key requirements:
1. Truly based on insight: To succeed and gain someone’s interest, in competition with that person’s best friend’s wedding or child’s soccer practice, the quality, accuracy and thereby probability of success for every published piece of content will have to increase. For that to happen a lot of the guesswork needs to be taken out of the storytelling equation. Should I be using an internal or external testimonial to prove my point in this video? Should I use a quote or an assertion? Should I be funny or dry? All of these are questions that could, and should, be answered by data, not a general editorial hunch. This does not mean that we believe that there is no value in craftsmanship. A lot of what will make a story successful we will not be able to explain with historical data. Is it a good testimonial? Is the quote well put? Is it laugh-out-loud funny or just a little humorous? Our aim is never to discredit or replace great storytellers. Our aim is to supercharge them with insight.
2. Based on visual content, specifically video: The first iteration of social networks, from a content perspective, provided links to sites that your friends or the algorithms thought you’d enjoy. But over time, almost every social media has developed into a visual, video-driven platform. It turns out, people like consuming stories in a timeline-fashion rather than reading a lot of text. As a result, video has become exponentially more important as a storytelling format and will continue to gain ground over the foreseeable future.
3. Brutally productive: Though the demands on, and complexity for, a marketing and communications department has increased significantly and will continue to increase, their resources will not. Budgets have essentially grown with GDP. But while an added format on social (i.e. Instagram Stories) presents a huge opportunity (untapped potential) it also introduces a lot of added complexity (vertical video, single asset files, no api to publish through). The winning platform will enable communicators and marketers to remain innovative and spread over channels and formats, without having to add resources.
So, what is Storykit really?
Core ideas in building Storykit
We built Storykit around two fundamental ideas. One was that in order to figure out how your content performs in a distributed world, you need to track the entire chain of events from the inception of a piece of content (the idea) to the results that that piece of content generated. This turned out to fundamentally be a question of how to structure your database and set up stories in a world where each social network hosted their own content and had specific requirements for how a piece of content was supposed to work (sizes, character-limits, time-limits, etc). The other fundamental idea was that to be able to use past publishing volume to predict future success we needed to incentivize our users to carefully and in a structured way describe what they were doing in each step of the production process. Without knowing ”how” something has been produced, it is impossible to understand why something has succeeded or failed.
This last point requires some more explanation, because for everyone I meet outside of the publishing world, this sounds completely trivial. Obviously you have to understand how something was made to be able to understand how to replicate it. But this has not, and still is not, true for most content producing organizations. In most manufacturing processes, every step of the process is carefully described and documented, and can be experimented with and iterated upon to improve the process. But this is not the case when manufacturing content, a process that could accurately be likened to ”craft”. Creating content is like a magic black artistic box where an idea comes in on one side, and an article or video comes out on the other. If you are a great content producer, what comes out of the box usually strikes a cord with the audience and works well, and if you are a poor content producer (e.g. Peder Bonnier) what comes out will be a way too long, poorly packaged 2000+ word article that no-one will ever read (what are you still doing here?). What we decided on back in 2014 was that there were a lot of things in the manufacturing process that actually could be described in a structured way, which would remove a lot of uncertainty for the results (while keeping a lot of the ”craft” involved in writing a good story). Things like ”was this story primarily researched and written from a desk in the editorial office or was it primarily researched and produced form out on the field?” or ”is this story intended to educate or inform someone, or is it intended to provoke or start a debate?” are questions that are normally implicitly answered in the content-manufacturing process but since they are not explicitly documented can not be analyzed or used in recommending or predicting future success.
These two fundamental ideas were, and still are, at the core of what we are building with Storykit— giving creators more productivity and more predictability in their content-manufacturing process.
Building the business Storykit
But the answer to what we are building is not just the technology and product. It is also the company that we are trying to build around that product. This is a company where we are focused on the value that we are creating for our customers and users and where retention and engagement are our most important metrics. It is a company where we work with insane ambition, but where we help each other out and pitch in where needed, where we value having ideas and finding solutions more than finding faults and errors, where we value action more than opinion and where we keep an open and transparent discussion about the work that we do.
We want to radically improve the experience of telling stories for businesses all around the world because we truly believe that a great story can be crucial for business success and, ultimately, make the world a better place. If we are able to give our users the tools, the insights and the community they need to tell their storys we will succeed and I am extremely excited about continuing to fulfill that mission.
/Peder Bonnier, CEO