Cheezburger satisfies young fans with personalized communications

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The entertainment website company turns to KikChat to get its message out

Web surfers' hunger for entertaining content is insatiable, so many go to gorge at Cheezburger. Despite its current popularity, executives at Cheezburger know that maintaining the interest of today's fickle youth takes work.

Host of 60 light-humor and cute-animal image-heavy websites — including The Daily What, Failblog, Geek Universe, ICanHasCheezburger, Knowyourmeme, Memebase, and Pokémemes — Cheezburger appeals most to people ages 13 to 25.

And how.

With a mushrooming global audience of 20-plus million unique monthly visitors — and one billion Google+ followers — the websites' popularity began with a single LOLcats site launched in 2007 by two Seattle buddies, blogger Eric Nakagawa (a k a Cheezburger) and Kari Unebasami (Tofuburger). "The goal of showing cute kitties and bloopers is to make people happy five minutes a day," says Bret Neuman, Cheezburger's senior social strategist.

Investors have pumped millions into the operation, now run by CEO Ben Huh. Cheezburger even spawned Bravo reality-TV series LOLwork in 2012.

Behind the behemoth that juggles 60 websites, seven Facebook fan pages, and five Twitter sites is a staff of three people. "We're still a lean and scrappy startup," Neuman says.

Aiming to increase engagement with fans — who expect to be able to interact with Cheezburger 24/7 — Neuman  and his team realized the company needed help. Facebook was not the answer, given the flight of tech-trendy millennials from major social media to smaller, purpose-driven ones like Snapchat and Kik Interactive, Neuman says. "Gone are the days where you can create a Facebook fan page and be 100 percent sure you'll reach 100 percent of your audience."

Indeed, the percentage of 13- to 17-year-old social-media users on Facebook has dropped from 94% to 88% in the past year. Facebook's messaging App skews ancient (in teen-terms), with 55% of users being 37 or younger, versus 83% of Kik Interactive's and 86% of Snapchat's users, reports Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. Currently, Kik's audience closely mirrors Cheezburger's, with 40% of 13- to 25-year olds in the U.S. using Kik for an average of 97 minutes weekly, BI Intelligence reports.

So Cheezburger started using Kik's Promoted Chat and keyword replies offerings. The former has more than eight million opt-in users who have exchanged more than 130 million messages with brands using the service in the three months since KikChat launched, says Paul Gray, Kik product strategist.

The keywords feature enables Cheezburger users to type phrases and get pre-scripted yet seemingly personalized replies delivered by chatbots. "We can maintain the voice of our brand just by being smart in how we create our user-generated replies," Neuman says. "If the brand is doing it right, users never know they're chatting with a bot. ... We couldn't do this otherwise with our high volume of users."

Additionally, Kik provides a built-in browser that allows fans to consume content on Cheezburger's sites without having to quit the messaging app. The combination is helping to increase the number of interactions Cheezburger has with its audience.

"Keyword replies open up boundaries so we can do fun things to surprise and delight our tech-savvy fans, such as daily Squee-Offs, or informal polls choosing between two adorable animals, say, baby rhinos versus baby elephants," Neuman says.   

Since early November, Cheezburger has reached 47,000 KikChatters, with high open and referral rates back to its sites. In comparison, reaching 2.4 million Facebook fans and 1.7 million Twitter followers took seven years.

Cheezburger's average click- through rate (CTR) for broadcast messages (per post) sent via Kik has been 8.8%, considerably higher than the 1% to 2% CTR on Twitter.

"We're seeing really great results," Neuman says.

This article first appeared on dmnews.com.

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