The Future of Media

A conversation with: 

Jason Mustian

CEO and Co-Founder
Bloomjoy Media

For Creators Who Want to Make Good Content and Do Other Stuff Good Too

Vast resources are wasted on unoriginal content, causing creators big and small to miss huge upside. Here's some practical advice on how to turn things around, and what the implications will be for the future of content marketers, influencers, and media companies.

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Interview Key Points

  • Don’t waste creative resources on rehashing the same topics as everyone else
  • The ROI of original content is very high. Take a chance, be different.
  • Create content people like, back it up with numbers, and you have a business.
  • Influencers have a very undervalued audience that can be better monetized
  • Some of the best media companies of the future will run off influencer audiences
  • AI will cut down the expense of content creation and increase margins.
  • Don’t be misled by superstitious Facebook “Voodoo”. Follow best practices.

Full Interview Transcript

Patrick Costello
Jason Mustian
Bloomjoy Media

P: Hey Everyone, today I’m here with Jason the CEO of Bloomjoy.

J: Patrick, pleasure to be here.

P: I was wondering if you could introduce yourself and share a little bit of what you were working on at Bloomjoy.

J: Sure, I love talking about myself and my company! My name is Jason Mustian I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Bloomjoy. We are a platform that is designed to help influencers create long term businesses. We do that in a lot of different ways, but the vast majority is building media assets and strategy and monetization around the influencers themselves off the platforms they currently have. One of the biggest problems that a lot of them [influencers] do have is that they don’t know how to monetize what they have or they’re waiting around for someone to try and make money for them. We try to wrap a full media stack, so to speak, around them so we can help them create a long term more sustainable business. Our thesis being that we think some of the best media companies of the future will actually come from an influencer’s audience. We think that’s a very undervalued audience and our specialty is undervalued attention. We’re trying to help them build for the long run.

P: How did you guys come across this as an opportunity? Was there a particular moment where you were like “Oh my gosh, we should totally do this.” What was that experience like coming up with this idea.

J: Yeah, there kinda was a moment. We all come from publishing and we worked with influencers in a lot of different capacities, sometimes getting them to help promote our media stuff, promote advertising campaigns for us. It was pretty much, thinking ok these people have an audience, it’s an audience of people we covet and the advertisers we work with really covet. Why not take ourselves out - don’t be the middleman between the influencer and the advertiser, why not represent the influencers themselves. And see what we can do with that. That’s how it started as a general thesis. We reached out to a few influencers who we knew just from publishing, we were able to spin up some interesting websites and different initiatives around that. We were very lucky early on to work with some of the bigger influencers on that. For example, George Takei, who is very big on Facebook, we power a site for him and a lot of content that goes into it as well as monetization. And we have some other smaller publishers and influencers in our stable as well.

P: So there’s been a lot of interest in leveraging influencers to help drive more content performance. What are the biggest pitfalls that you see people run into when they try and do it on their own?

J: Yeah, I think the biggest pitfall are the biggest pitfalls that I ran into. Having been in publishing this is my third publishing startup, probably my fifth publishing company that I worked for since 2008. A lot of it is just basic stuff that comes with time - failures that come with time. Whether it’s knowing how to monetize in the best way that you can. How to not shoot yourself in the foot when you’re trying new things to monetize. How to manage the right stack. The right relationships with the social networks. I had to learn SEO for example. As you start off you work in one capacity and you’re sort of a blogger and you have SEO knowledge for blogging that tends to get a lot more complicated as you go - a lot more ROI if you can figure it out. It’s just too much knowledge for one person to really take on and that’s what most of these influencers are. They’re one person, if they’re lucky a couple people, who even across a small team have never had that knowledge.

Over time we just learned that was - there’s a lot being left on the table there because of a basic lack of knowledge and we can come in as a platform and serve one or many of the facets that they might be missing in terms of turning themselves into a much more stable business.

P: When you’re thinking about how to help your clients with better content - how do you curate content that should be distributed in the first place? How do you sift through all the noise out there?

J: That’s a good question! There are tools that help. It’s kind of mix of everything in the content space these days. It’s a mix of tech and good ol’ fashioned creative intuition. Tools like CrowdTangle and content discovery tools and I think Naytev as well for A/B Testing. Looking at what might perform well with a certain social audience. That kind of gives us the data on what’s the most efficient strategy. At the end of the day, the gut instinct, the good ol’ fashioned “this is what’s creative this is what people respond to” - and almost the traditional editorial calendar around “here are our tentpole categories, here are our objectives with that, here’s the brand.” Just kind of executing content based on that we find is that it’s not a model that’s broken or ever was. I think a lot of people give media a bad rap these days because of Facebook isn’t as easy to get traffic from as it once was, but I think the principles have always been the same. Create content that people engage with and that they like. Back it up with some numbers and you have yourself a business. And that’s how we approach it internally.

P: You’ve had a lot of experience working with media teams and building them. There’s obviously a lot of pressure right now for content teams to run leaner.How do you think a modern efficient content team should be structured?

J: Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s one that we’ve actually gone out and pioneered to an extent. We actually started at Bloomjoy, Patrick you and I know each other a little bit from Y-Combinator (YC), but when we were in YC we pitched ourselves as the Associated Press for Lifestyle Content. The theory behind that being that there’s a lot of content out there being created that is the same. Condé Nast writes “7 Tips for Lipstick in the Winter” and then Hearst does the same thing, why?

I definitely think that’s true for trending stories, like right now the Oscars, right? There’s only so many ways a news website or company can report who is nominated for oscars. We saw that being a complete waste of a lot of resources that took away from these content creators and publishers being able to focus on more original things. Our thesis was that we could become the Associated Press for this, we could work internally to create content and work with other publishers to make their content easily syndicatable to other teams, while also being able to decrease expenses on their own side, not waste really solid creative resources on rehashing what people are already doing and instead focusing on better things.

That all was great and I think that as a company we were faced with the decision to go down that road completely or take the application of that. [We’re now] helping publishers and influencers supplement their content that they are offering by licensing content from premium publishers. It cuts out a lot of friction, it’s not a new model - syndication is an old model - making it easy for people is. Taking out that friction allows influencers to find and curate things that speak more to their audiences that go beyond what they’re capable of doing on their own as a single person or even with us that they’re capable of doing. Making sure their audience is getting content that they want and making sure that everyone involved on the food chain is getting the highest level of ROI. So - that’s how we think about content. Like content is so great, but there’s so much of it that’s the same. I think everyone wins when everyone focuses on what they’re best at. Competitive Advantage - you know traditional economic theory.

“Do the things you’re best at and don’t worry about the things that you’re not.” Figure out a way to supplement your content by approaching it like that. It’s kind of a long answer, but that’s how we think about scaling more efficiently. We have other tools as well to do that internally, but the biggest thing is just that we’re spending time on content that’s original and not something that’s not copied pasted and twisted around from what someone else has done.

P: A lot of media teams are working with team structures that have been around for some time. Are there any particular roles at content teams that will change significantly in terms of responsibility or even existing in years ahead?

J: That’s a good question. I think structurally the way most content teams work - Editor in Chief, someone who’s responsible for creating vision, your managing editors/vertical editors kind of overseeing how that vision fits into a plan for a specific content focus. I don’t think that structurally changes, I think the amount of people needed to do it changes. I think the emergence of AI around content creation changes the dynamic of how that team actually looks. We like to look at a world in the future where there is those Managing Editors, Editors in Chief, and your kind of the freelance writers - but part of that newsroom or part of that editorial team is also some AI tools, also some syndication tools, also a myriad of other new advances that essentially lean it out but give it a more robust approach to how content is created.

P: We’ve seen a lot more of artificial intelligence creating content. Do you think AI will have a game changing impact on content creation in the next 5 years?

J: Yes, game changing yes. I’m a little skeptical of how the game will change. I think one of the failures of a lot -- with any AI, right. Especially one that’s geared towards creative, the AI is only as good as the people who program it and their vision for content. I question how well AI will be able to keep up and still create content that people find engaging. Because it’s so hard to predict what people will consume next week. So how do you create AI that keeps up with that. I’m not a developer, so maybe there are people a lot smarter than me who can figure out a way to do that, that would be really cool. I think [AI] will help in a lot of ways probably more on the tools and efficiency side, than straight up running some code and here you go, here’s a story written by a computer. I think it’s how do you streamline all the information that’s out there to get a human to kind of edit it and get it ready to roll. I think that’s a much more short term application and the game changer, again for efficiency, cutting down that expense on creating content and increasing margins.

P: So you would see AI maybe in the next 5 years as more of an augmentation resource than replacing work on the content creation side?

J: Yes. I think of Business Insider actually, to give a nice plug to them, they do at the beginning of each article have a summary of the article and CNN does this as well, I’ll frequently just look at the bullet points and nothing else.  If it’s not already being written by AI - those types of features that allow people to focus on different parts of content creation whether it’s by itself or getting more sources - yeah it’ll totally, things like that will totally augment the content.

P: Early in the conversation, you mentioned that you had done a number of different media ventures. I was wondering if you could share a little bit more about where you worked before Bloomjoy and what some of the biggest lessons you learned from those experiences.

J: Sure, absolutely. I kind of got started like most wayward 24 year olds. I went to law school not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. There I started writing and contributing to various freelance publications - I was very, very lucky early on - I targeted humour writing. I thought I was funny, everyone thinks they’re funny of course, but it turned out to be somewhat, something that worked well for me. I was able to get on as a contributor for The Onion early in my career and that kind of forayed into other writing experiences in media. In 2008, I went to work for a copywriter for a company called Fun E-Cards that had just started - they were making funny e-cards and that was really fun. I was getting paid, I believe, a whopping $25 a pop and then that site took off and I was lucky to be brought on as an employee as the kind of first full time editor type employee. So we grew that for a while, we turned it not only into an e-card company but an actual media company centering around trending news and humor. From there I was very lucky in the early teens started a company called “Distractify” - we were raising funding around that and grew very quickly. Kind of another viral answer to Buzzfeed. At the time it was a very big space where people were looking to figure out the next solution, I ran that for awhile! I worked for a few other companies and consulted for many, many more both in the writing and management capacity - the Chive and Hello Giggles. I helped consult them in the early days. I ran a few websites that I kind of started throughout the years, shoutout to Pleated which was what gave me the idea that I could make this streamlined for other people knowing what I know. From there I started Bloomjoy and applied to YC and the rest is history.

P: In the past, you mentioned to me that there were often a lot of superstitions around Facebook. I was wondering if you could share a couple of superstitions that you’ve come across and a corollary best practice to dispel that superstition.

J: Yeah, I would say - well with Facebook, really any social platform, but with Facebook being so large especially for influencers. We get a lot of, I call it Voodoo, that just tends to be based on gut. As far as we know, given the algorithm they run which has millions of components (probably) it could not be voodoo, but we don’t really have a ton of reason to believe in a lot of stuff.

A great example that we get a lot is posting links to articles and reposting them or certain times of day when you post things. Really centering around “If I post this article again any less than 90 days after I posted it first FB will decrease the reach on it.” or “I posted this in the morning, I should have posted this at noon.” It doesn’t seem like that’s really how anything works. Trying to dispel it is incredibly hard - we always point to Facebook’s best practices. Which straight up say, “Hey, our newsfeed is designed with a lot of different variables in mind and we try to show people the stuff that’s most relevant to them, post early and often, post as much as you want - make sure it’s good content and we’ll make sure the right people will see it. It’s weird to me that FB would come out and say that and yet you still need to show some of these influencers this is the case and I’ll get a lot of pushback on things like that as well.  “I know that’s what they say, but it’s been our experience that says different.” Posting is definitely one thing.

Also definitely fear around, “Well, I don’t want to do this kind of content because I heard Facebook doesn’t like political stuff.” Right now with the Fake News problem they’re fighting, there might be some truth to it, but you know “I know this story is real. It’s verified and the Washington Post covered it, but I don’t want to cover it because FB really has it out for political stuff.” They don’t want to show that they’re left leaning. Or something like that. That’s another thing that we run into a lot. Again, which Facebook seems to be very clear on, “Hey, do your fact checking. Post real news! And post it to people or an audience that cares about it and that’s what we want.” Yeah, hard things to overcome, but I think as time goes on hopefully Facebook is more transparent with some of these people and can help us solve the problem. I think everyone on the platform is committed to making the most out of it, and I think that  more conversations around these exact things will be helpful to everyone, including Facebook.

P: I noticed that in your LinkedIn Profile that you mentioned that you were “Determined to make the internet less shitty.” I was wondering if there was something in particular that content marketers can do to make the internet less shitty.

J: Wow, yeah. I mean there’s probably 1000 things in particular that I’d love content marketers to do. I think in general the biggest thing is that - the hardest - the creatives are some of the least creative people you’ll ever see and content marketers fall into this category. Everyone kind of wants to wait for someone else to be the first mover and copy what they see. I think that creates a shittier internet. In 2013 and 2014, I mean I was part of this just like other people, it created the kind of click bait stuff.

Everyone is chasing it, whether it was just a quick buck or whether it was what other people were doing, I see that happening a lot and I think it makes the internet less creative and that makes it shittier. You see it a lot now on Instagram, I follow a couple of meme accounts and I see the same memes over and over again. Again - hey it did really well for this other person so I should share this meme too. It’s a weird internet because the incentive to be different is really, really high and the ROI on that can be really, really great, but no one wants to take that chance. As far as Bloomjoy’s mission is concerned is trying to convince our Influencers to build more cohesive brands with a vision around who they are, who their audience is, or who they really want to be is something that makes the internet a lot less shitty. Not to poo poo - I love Buzzfeed, we have tons of influencers who create lists and great stuff, I got to Reddit every day - I’m a huge redditor - those things are great, but there’s a lot of echo chamber that can be prevented by everyone working together to create this great open source platform that we all get to use daily. I think it could be a little bit better if we focus on that type of thing.

P: Hopefully everyone can get on the same page with that.

J: Well, like I said - that’s what my mission is. Whether I can achieve it or not is a different thing.

P: If you could have your pick of any marketing or startup-y buzzword to kill, which one would you kill?

J: Ha - ooo. That is tough. To me a word that actually is a little bit annoying is the word “content” itself. It gets kind of bandied about and it’s not to say there aren’t multiple types of content, but I think it creates this idea of “Ok, this is just content and once you have content and whatever it is it’s content so that’s going to work.” Here’s an anecdote to explain this. In my early days, I did a lot of humor writing as I mentioned, and I went to write for a thing called MLB Fan Cave. It’s the first year they did it - there guys in NY lived in a place in the West Village and they watched every Baseball Game that was on for the entire season. I remember the creative director coming in telling us to make a viral video - “Hey guys let’s make a viral video.” As if it was just like “Yeah, yeah, yeah - let’s do it.” I think the same thing about “content” - “Hey guys, let’s just make content.” The world has no shortage of just “content”, but “good content” - I think that needs to be a term that has more reverence. When you say content, that needs to be a term that you automatically know your fans give a shit about. I don’t know if we can curse on this, but I just did. Things your fans give a shit about. Things your audience gives a shit about. Not just things you’re using to rank for higher keywords or to get a better CPC on Facebook. I think the problem is overusing content is that it creates a lot more content than the world actually needs. Which again gets back to Bloomjoy trying to streamline that sort of stuff so there’s not a lot of pointless crap that’s getting to you. That’s all I’ll talk about that one.

P: What was the most fun piece of content you’ve ever created?

J: Oo most fun. Writing wise it’s a submit to “McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies” it’s a no pay humor mag that people just write to. One of my favorite pieces that I’ve ever written my dad in like 2007/2008, when he wanted to turn off his computer - he would just unplug his computer. He wouldn’t just turn it off. So I wrote an article saying, the title was “I swear to fucking god if I come home from Christmas and I find that you’ve been unplugging the computer when you want to turn it off. I’m going to fucking snap.” Which is great, because I like basing content is truth. I’ve also done some cool Instagram and Twitter Accounts, check em out - @storyofmyfuckinglife and "tldr wikipedia" (twitter) (instagram) - Shorty Award Nominee for both of those, but never actually won anything, but again both very truthful focused accounts. One is a parody of wikipedia and the other is a bunch of book titles that if your life were titled in books this is what your life would look like. Very proud of those things and fortunate to still have a little bit of time left to devote to those things.

P: That’s amazing. I can’t wait to check out those different accounts and the article that you submitted to McSweeney’s.

J: It surfaces every time around Christmas, because it has Christmas in the title, but every Christmas I’ll get like a Google News Alert that someone has shared something. Oh yeah, I forgot about this thing from 10 years ago.

P: Awesome. Jason, I really appreciate your time.

J: Thanks a lot for having me. Its was really fun.

*Note, transcript edited for clarity

Jason Mustian

I'm a Shorty Award-losing, Webby-winning digital media executive & entrepreneur determined to make the internet less shitty. Currently, I'm CEO of BloomJoy — the first easy and cost-effective way to license content from the world’s top publishers, bloggers, and brands.