While StumbleUpon views itself as a content amplification platform, Gherini said Facebook, Twitter, Taboola and BuzzFeed are all competing for users’ time and ad dollars, raising the bar for discovery platforms.
“We don’t want more junk in our news feeds,” Gherini admitted. “We have to be source-agnostic. While YouTube is an awesome partner, we don’t want video to [equate to] YouTube. There’s Vimeo, Vine and podcasts, which are starting to boom in their own right driven mainly by mobile.”
StumbleUpon’s pitch to publishers and advertisers is that it adds about 250,000 new users each month who usually spend 3.5 hours per month reading its content. It says it is now serving about half a billion content recommendations per month with 150 million unique pages indexed.
In recent months, StumbleUpon rolled out biweekly emails featuring content hand-selected by editorial curators tailored to interest-based groups. Results have proven positive, with a 60% open rate and 10% click-through.
At first, StumbleUpon used email as a re-engagement method for users who fell off, but increasingly there is a segment of users who prefer never to come to the StumbleUpon portal or app at all.
“At first, it was a red flag because they opened the email but didn’t click the Stumble button, but they were opening the email multiple times and clicking on different pieces,” Gherini said. “We realized people were using the email as a landing page, where the email is the content and those users only want to know, ‘These are the five things I need to know that day.’”
It also launched an embedded in-content chat functionality called Conversations, since StumbleUpon found some users preferred to share through a closed network like SMS or email, as opposed to standard social channels.
More video is on the road map. StumbleUpon acquired video personalization platform 5By last fall, and while advertisers like Old Spice and Red Bull are already running full-screen sponsored StumbleUpon ads, the platform is examining more ways to surface relevant video content with 5By.
5By essentially acts as a video search engine, letting users discover and chat about content without exiting its app; the data it collects helps it determine what interest-based content matches a profile.
“Similar to Facebook and Twitter, you can come into [StumbleUpon ads] with $20 or you can go in with $200,000,” Gherini said. StumbleUpon’s algorithm determines attributes such as whether a user just became a member and then throttles or increases the frequency of sponsored Stumbles accordingly.
She added: “Millennials make up about 70% of our audience, and we find they’re rating great content highly, whether it’s sponsored or not.”