Obsessee is doubling down on the peer-to-peer content model

Obsessee — the multi-platform, social media–first publication launched by Clique Media Group exactly a year ago — has refocused its content strategy to emphasize reader-driven content.

Although it was a facet of its strategy from the get-go, said Alex Taylor, the company’s president of digital, Obsessee started out using “more of a house voice that emphasized top-down reporting” from their editorial team. Since then, the brand has evolved into a peer-to-peer community, with almost all of its content driven by the Gen Z voices that are its target demographic.

“When we started heavying up on that content, the engagement rate started going through the roof,” said Taylor. “People really want this one-to-one connection with a person, rather than an anonymous brand, so we felt that getting behind these voices and giving them that place was really important.”

Covering a wide swath of lifestyle buckets — including fashion, culture, politics, music, beauty, food and relationships — the publication now relies on a host of outside (paid) contributors ages 15 to 25 that are culled from its readership, in addition to its core editorial team of four. That team is headed up by editorial director Naomi Nevitt, an alumnae of Refinery29 and Teen Vogue, and the only non–Gen Z-er on board.

Obsessee’s Instagram page

“We see ourselves as a collaborative community, so we’re really making content about our readers, for our readers, where they are,” said Nevitt of their mission. That has meant whittling down which platforms they focus on, too.

While the company maintains a presence on 10 different platforms (ranging from the obvious, like Instagram and Twitter, to the less obvious, like Periscope and Google+), they’ve found that their resources are best spent on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. “It’s really where they’re spending most of their time,” said Taylor, of Obsessee fans.

When the publication first launched, she explained, the team relied heavily on data to identify which platforms to emphasize most — but that data was from a year ago. “Things have changed dramatically,” she said, noting that, though it’s still in their top three, they’re no longer as heavy on Snapchat and have less of a presence on Tumblr. This spring, they will be layering in a larger YouTube strategy in an effort to build up their video content.

Recent data from Ypulse, a youth marketing and research firm, hints that their resources might be better spent there than Snapchat. Their latest Social Media Consumption study, released in February, found Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to be the top three social platforms used by people ages 13-34. Interestingly, Facebook reigns supreme with 72 percent of young people using it daily. In comparison, Instagram attracts 45 percent and saw a 7 percent increase in daily usage this year (likely due to its rollout of Stories and Live). Snapchat isn’t sinking yet, but it’s daily usage with this demo increased by only 2 percent, and just 38 percent use it regularly.

Reader-created art for Obsessee

Nevitt, for her part, thinks Snapchat still offers something unique to Obsessee’s readership: “Intimacy,” she said. “Instagram still feels very public — like you’re broadcasting a message for everyone to see — while Snapchat feels slightly secretive, like not everyone you know is going to find you [there].” As such, her team is leaning into “one-on-one” communication on the platform, experimenting with more direct messaging to followers, in lieu of the more-public Stories option.

Intimacy is a core part of the Obsessee brand — and one that it hopes helps to set it apart from other social-only or Gen Z competitors, like Hearst’s Sweet and Teen Vogue. “We think of ourselves as [a reader’s] friend who lives in a big city and has access to interesting people, ideas and points-of-view,” said Nevitt. “We’re exposing girls to that and bringing them into the conversation in a really authentic, warm way.”

Indeed, its content ranges from readers opening up (in an Instagram caption, no less) about deeply personal issues, such as race or body image, to its in-house editors interviewing up-and-coming musicians or testing out a new beauty product on Instagram Stories (#obsesseewithit, they say). More extensive product reviews and shopping stories are left to Pinterest and Facebook, where it’s easier to apply affiliate links.

Contributors are vetted not by resume or social power, but by the stories and art they have to share.

“Obsessee is…” cards from one of the brand’s IRL events

To really claim that intimate space, however, the team has opted to bring Obsessee offline, as well, hosting numerous reader meets-ups and a pop-up shop since their launch. According to Taylor, it was a series of Gen Z focus groups that led them down this path. “Because they’re digital natives, the novelty of these digital experiences has sort of worn off, and … IRL is very important to them,” she said.

The latest event, in January, was a film festival of sorts at the hip Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, which featured films submitted by Obsessee readers. “They love talking to each other,” said Nevitt of the crowd, “and there’s something really special about that moment where they meet each other face-to-face, put down their phones and have a meaningful exchange.”

They plan to pursue more collaborative events in that vein throughout the year, as well as ramp up their reader-contributor network.

“We often talk about Obsessee as being social-only, and I think that is something that really sets us apart from others in this Gen-Z set,” said Nevitt, “But the idea of creating a community offline is really important for us, too — from helping [our reader] create friendships to helping her discover new ideas and points of view.”

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