How iHeartRadio became the most-followed publisher on YouNow

IHeartRadio isn’t shy about jumping on new platforms; it was one of the first of Snapchat’s Discover partners and has embraced Periscope and Facebook Live. But for interacting with music lovers, the internet radio company says there’s nothing like YouNow.

Started in 2011, the live-streaming social platform lets users, most of whom are under 24, broadcast to each other in real time. There’s no time limit on the broadcasts, and YouNow has said it gets 100 million user sessions a month, with users averaging 50 minutes a day on the platform.

Brands are starting to tread there as well, but few have dived in as iHeartRadio has. It started an account in January, and now has nearly 150,000 fans that have racked up close to 500,000 views — which YouNow’s founder Adi Sideman called “very respectable for a publisher that just started broadcasting a few months ago.” The average time people spend watching a given broadcast is 3.5 minutes, and iHeartRadio is in that range, Sideman said.

There are other media companies that are broadcasting on YouNow, including MTV (97,000 fans), The Huffington Post (43,000 fans) and Refinery29 (16,000 fans), but none has more fans than iHeartRadio, YouNow confirmed.

Chris Williams, iHeartRadio’s chief product officer, said that the appeal of YouNow is that it recreates the radio tradition of having meet-and-greets with artists at scale. YouNow’s distinction is its interactivity, and iHeartRadio broadcasts to YouNow about once or twice a month, when it has an artist coming in that’s popular with the YouNow demo and can interact with fans.

“We just play around with different platforms,” Williams said. “So one night last year I was on YouNow, and the thing that struck me immediately after having played with Meerkat and Periscope is that it was the Snapchat crowd on video stream. It was a much younger crowd.”

A format that’s worked well for iHeartRadio on YouNow is having fans perform in a contest for an artist, who then interacts with the fans in real time. One such broadcast was with Hailee Steinfeld, where the singer meets her fans singing her latest single, “Rock Bottom.” That broadcast got nearly 90,000 viewers and 26,000 likes, and another 190,000 views on YouTube, where it was simultaneously broadcast. For another broadcast, iHeartRadio invited fans to beatbox for Charlie Puth, which got close to 73,000 views and 56,000 likes. In other cases, iHeartRadio has taken homegrown YouNow stars and promoted them on its radio stations, creating a “wonderful flow back and forth,” Sideman said.

“There’s something pretty spectacular about seeing an artist and fan on a split screen — our fan boys, fan girls, geeking out over that close connection,” Williams said. “That is the core of what we aspire to be, and we have these tools to be able to do this at scale.”

YouNow is more liberal than other platforms in letting publishers to use their accounts to promote advertisers. IHeartRadio hasn’t tried to monetize its YouNow following, though, using it solely as a marketing channel to expose people to its radio brand. Music is the fifth-most popular topic on YouNow, so it would be remiss of iHeartRadio not to use the platform.

“I don’t have a KPI that I drive a certain number of installs. I think the halo is good for the iHeartRadio brand,” Williams said. “You have to either be leading or participating in the conversation in some way, or how can you claim to be part of that community of music fans?”

Being active on an ever-proliferating number of platforms can be a resource drain on publishers. The advantage of YouNow is that iHeartRadio can do it with its existing resources (it’s directed by the brand’s five-person social media team in New York, which farms out the broadcast duties to its station clusters across the country).

YouNow carries a certain amount of risk for brands, being a place where its young users can broadcast themselves live and uncensored. A young usership also means there’s no guarantee how long it’ll stick around. Williams said there’s a leap of faith with any platform, as it learned with its foray on Meerkat, and that the company has to be equally comfortable diving in to build a strong foundation on an emerging platform as it is moving on when its appeal fades.

“It’s of the now, and time will tell us whether or not it’s a fad,” he said of YouNow. “It’s a thing we are constantly focused on. No question, [the YouNow demo] is a digitally promiscuous community that doesn’t really have strong loyalty to any of these platforms.”

Images: iHeartRadio via YouNow

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