UK-based pop culture media group discusses success from social publishing

Innovation Enterprise's Simorin Pinto spoke to Jess Lever, Head of Production at The Hook, ahead of her presentation at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in London


The Hook Group consists of The Hook (One of the largest Youth Social Publishers globally) and The Hook Labs (Social Media Agency / Content Studio) launched in 2014 and co-founded by Andy Fidler and Gordon Bennell. Agency, The Hook Labs offers brands creative, production, influencer marketing and social distribution to generate sales and build brand awareness.

According to The Hook its content generates 1,500 likes, comments and shares per minute with a social media following of 10 million. Additionally, The Hook reaches 45% of 18-35-year-olds in the US and 80% in the UK.

Innovation Enterprise's Simorin Pinto spoke to Jess Lever, Head of Production at The Hook, ahead of her presentation at the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in London.

Innovation Enterprise: How does The Hook set itself apart from other media platforms?

Jess Lever: We're a social first comedy and entertainment publisher across multiple channels, with Facebook being our flagship platform. While many others in our space have led with third-party and user-generated content, we've built our 10 million and growing following on stand-out originals.

Everything we do is created in-house and to date we've developed 15 regular series for social, from our comedy sketches to our celebrity interviews, with the likes of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Kevin Hart, to mashups, animations, festival and event coverage, trending newsreels and more.

We're super proud that our audience of 18–35 year olds is split right down the middle – 50% male, 50% female – which is pretty rare in our industry. We always aim to make our fans laugh and let them know about the stuff that's important to them, covering pop culture topics such as movies, music, comedy and gaming.

IE: What were the main aims in creating a content studio and social media agency?

JL: We had organically built a highly engaged audience through making our originals, so it was all about taking the business to the next level, to leverage our skill set further and help brands achieve similar success. We started creating branded content in early 2016, but in 2017 we really started to define our commercial offering by launching The Hook Labs. The agency provides brands with creative and production, influencer marketing and a distribution service that goes beyond The Hook's owned and operated pages and outlets, matching the best possible distribution channels to individual campaign requirements.

Lionsgate, Samsung, Babyliss, Hyundai, giffgaff, Voxy, Warner Brothers, Namco, Sony Pictures, Bethesda and Studio Canal are just a few of the names who have signed up for bespoke social campaigns. It's been amazing to see the evolution of our agency. Briefs are coming in all of the time and we've got some really exciting campaigns in post-production planned for the end of the year.

IE: What did winning the Global Digiday Publishing Award mean for The Hook?

JL: This was our first ever award and meant so much. Our campaign for Lionsgate's Jigsaw movie won Best Branded Content and the whole office was buzzing when we found out the news. Our co-founder Andy Fidler was in New York to receive the award and the amazing people at Digiday organized for all winners' pictures to be projected onto the enormous Nasdaq Tower in Times Square. More than a little surreal to see Andy's face up there. It was so fun to work on this one and to see the response it got was so special.

We then went on to win Content Studio of the Year at the British Media Awards with Campaign, edging out Disney among other huge names, which was a bit of a gamechanger for us. The award recognizes our entire body of editorial and branded content across the year, so we couldn't be prouder really. We're all keeping our fingers crossed for more nominations and hopefully some more wins this year.

IE: How do you adapt to the ever-changing online media consumption market and how do you ensure that your strategy remains relevant?

JL: I think our original content strategy keeps us relevant. We have our own unique tone of voice and comedy and creativity is at the heart of what we do. There's only 25 of us at the moment and we've built an amazing internal creative team in front of and behind the camera that understands how to entertain and make people laugh.

You definitely have to be malleable and move with the ever-changing industry. 2018 shone a light on the social publisher market with the Facebook algorithm change prioritizing meaningful interactions from friends and family over content from publishers and brands.

The industry felt it and it became even trickier to ensure organic screen time but the power of engaging and shareable original content creation for The Hook has helped us to use the algorithm change to our advantage. This year we went on to completely remove licensed content from our Facebook feed, driving our original video content strategy forward past the 90% mark.

We are now in the process of creating and piloting a number of longer-form series formats too. With the imminent arrival of Facebook Watch in the UK and the emergence of YouTube Red and IG TV, we're looking to take our offering to new levels.

IE: In your opinion, what is the best strategy that works across digital platforms to create community and conversation, and effectively build The Hook's brand image?

JL: Making sure you are part of the conversation and have something original and unique to add is a good place to start, while really knowing your audience and the kind of content they love and want to watch.

Our focus has always been on building a genuinely engaged fanbase and one of our core values is to be brave when creating our originals. We constantly test and learn what works and what doesn't on social which means that we can provide more engaging content for our followers and the brands we work with.

Staying on top of the news agenda and trending topics within our remit is key for us. It's important to have a defined tone of voice and also to be open to work with others, influencers and collaborators who share your vision. We champion original comedy at The Hook and provide a platform where up and coming comedians and stars are given creative freedom to develop shows and series, working with our in-house experts.

People like Richard Gadd, who since won the Edinburgh Comedy Award fringe festival in 2016 and has gone on to star in a BBC series, well-known television and radio presenter Maya Jama, and Jahannah James, an up and coming comedian, actor and presenter with a big social following, have all played a part in The Hook's journey. Other regular contributors include names like Jayde Adams, Archie Manners, Maddy Anholt, Ken Cheng, Mo Omar, Huge Davies, Helen Bauer, Patrick Spicer, Huw Joseph, Simon Lomas, Mikill Pane and Adam Rowe.

To find out more about the digital market, you can watch Jess Lever speak at Innovation Enterprise's Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in London on October 3–4, 2018.

Book your place HERE

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