New York—Mashable has come a long way from its beginnings as a WordPress blog that a 19-year-old Pete Cashmore launched as a way to connect with his peers and learn about social media and tech as he went along. Cashmore, in a Q&A keynote during the 2011 FOLIO: Show held here, discussed the importance social media has had with the site’s audience growth, which is now at 20 million uniques per month.
The company is still fairly small, said Cashmore, numbering around 50 employees, with the edit team taking up the bulk of that, around 25-30 staff. In addition to edit, other groups include an events team, the technology group, and sales.
Cashmore singled out the community division as particularly unique, noting its "listening" role which has become a key method for determining where and how to distribute content on the site and along the various platforms. The role this team plays in the overall structure of the company highlights the importance social media has in amplifying Mashable’s brand and content as well as engagement as an increasingly important audience metric.
In describing the way Mashable evaluates the performance of its content, Cashmore noted the fine line publishers have to take. "I don’t think there’s a defined answer to that. It’s always a balance. If you just looked at page views you’d be doing a lot of cat videos."
Engagement is the "clearest" metric, Cashmore said, and with this is a focus on how content is making its way across the social networks. This also signals how certain content types and story topics resonate with readers. The more a particular piece of content is shared across networks the more value it has—triggering the dual effects of producing more content like it and highlighting the level of interaction among Mashable’s audience members. Traffic and page views, said Cashmore, are "not the end-all, be-all."
Cashmore described his audience as early adopters and thought leaders who are very connected—in a social networking kind of way. One new content offering Mashable has released is Mashable Follow, a proprietary and customizable content feed that lets users pick and choose only the topics they want to read. "It’s a desirable way to have a direct connection with your reader," he said. The feed now has 500,000 users.
Mashable’s business model is still fairly traditional, with the majority of revenue coming from advertising. Cashmore said events and the site’s job board are the next biggest contributors. The advantage that has allowed the site to grow beyond other tech sites is its ability to relate how technology and social media impact culture, lifestyle and politics. "We’re not a pure tech vertical," he said. "That’s how we were able to outgrow the other tech blogs."
Cashmore said he’s particularly excited with the iPad, curiously noting its "tactile" nature—an argument publishers still make for print. Similarly, Cashmore likes the way publishers can "package the content and control the experience. It’s a tangible product that you can charge for and control."