An online publishing startup called Love Wisconsin has grown quickly in the past two years by circulating stories that unite rather than divide.
The nonprofit company’s co-founders, Jet Waller and Megan Monday, grew the idea out of another business they started together in 2013 to help brands tell their stories. That business was called Metta Monday Creative. What began as a documentary side project has now developed into a brand of its own with a growing following.
“We’ve been in the media industry for a long time, and we’ve started to see a change,” Waller said at a recent meeting in Madison of entrepreneurial discussion group 1 Million Cups.
She noted people are getting more choices in the types of media they consume, but that it’s easier to be exposed to content that reinforces biases.
“We also found out that in the last few years that information is being fed to us; the algorithms on social media are starting to show us what they want us to see and that is really putting us into these bubbles that affirm and reaffirm our existing beliefs,” Waller said.
Meanwhile, people have been geographically isolating themselves as well by moving near like-minded individuals, Waller said.
“That’s happening in our media landscape as well,” she said. “And here in Wisconsin — the neighborly, friendly state — we started to see that too.”
As media creators, Waller and Monday were following these trends and came to the conclusion that if media can divide people so effectively, it can also be used bring them back together.
Love Wisconsin’s mission is to use storytelling and technology to bring about a more connected, compassionate and engaged Wisconsin. The brand’s storytelling content is mostly found online, focusing on things like place-based identity, building empathy, challenges facing state residents and more.
“The binder to these stories is they remain future-oriented and hopeful,” Monday added.
She says Love Wisconsin used a variety of creative and digital strategies to build its audience all over the state.
“The good thing is, it worked,” Waller said. “People were responding — they’re reading really long stories on Facebook, which we chose as our primary platform, because it had the audience that we want to reach statewide.”
In the first two years, Waller says Love Wisconsin’s Facebook page had more followers than some of the largest publishers in the state. That audience includes people spanning the political spectrum, and from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
“I think the metric we are most excited about was our engagement; we are in the top 5 percent of Facebook pages globally for engagement,” she said. “That means people like and click more on our stuff. But also that meant we are reaching 200,000 to 500,000 people in the state — really making us a pretty influential publisher in a quick bit of time.”
Love Wisconsin posted 359 times on Facebook in 2017, and got over 145,000 views on average for each post.
In early 2018, Love Wisconsin launched a conversation group on Facebook attached to the publishing page.
“The idea is that people will share from their personal lives, inspired by the stories we tell over on Love Wisconsin,” Monday said. “It’s going to operate, we think, like a well-resourced book club.”
The Wisconsin Humanities Council is sponsoring the conversations project, bringing in additional resources.
Love Wisconsin has several models for revenue, including sponsored content. Monday says three sponsored content posts came from UW Health last year.
“We’re looking to pursue that model,” she said. “There’s this piece of it that applies to grants, but there’s another piece of it that’s trying to figure out the revenue-based product that we can offer on the marketplace.”
The group currently has about 725 members sharing their life stories, including a sausage maker, a bowling pin-fixer, a storm-chaser who posts photos of the tornados she tracks, and many farmers.
Much of Love Wisconsin’s content is directed more toward middle-aged and older women, as their sharing and engagement trends lead to greater reach. That’s according to Tom Kuplic, the group’s resident data specialist.
He says the acquisition costs for gaining younger users are much higher than for other age groups. Love Wisconsin is on Twitter and Instagram, but currently only shares stories there that are originally posted on Facebook.
“The struggle is that we’re a small team, so moving into a new platform requires more effort than just throwing a post someplace else,” Kuplic said. “We do think Instagram is probably the best place for us to grow with that demographic.”
“We’ve only been around for just over two years, so we are focusing still on growth and now on depth of our engagement,” added Waller. “This year is also a focus on sustainability… as many of you know in the tech startup world, you’ve gotta build it, you’ve gotta bring your users, and then you’ve gotta figure out how to make that work without making your brand less authentic.”
That means bringing in partners and sponsors to help the operation stay afloat, she said.
“We’ve been experimenting with some of that,” Waller continued. “We’re also looking to get that model to where it’s functioning well enough that it can be scaled to other states or become a national model.”
See the group’s Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/lovewiproject/
–By Alex Moe