If you want to know what a real internet success story looks like, check out Bodyrock.TV. Providing home workout routines, diet advice and motivation, it has clocked up over half a billion YouTube views, has more than half a million Facebook fans, and is one of the most popular fitness destinations online.
What was behind this incredible web success? I contacted Frederick Light, BodyRock.tv’s producer to find out.
Jeremy – Freddy, you are currently in your home town of Kingston, Ontario. Is that where you are running Bodyrock from now?
Freddy – We shot BodyRock in a lot of different locations around the world, primarily in Europe. We shot it in the US, across Canada and we shot it in Malta. We have been in quite a few places, and that’s been part of the appeal on some level. There is a lot of layers to our content, one of the things people really enjoy is just the fact that they can share our experiences.
Jeremy – Yes, I’d really like to dig a little into the success of the content because I’m really interested in that. It would be easy to assume that it’s down to the attractive presenters but there is much more going on, which we’ll talk about later. There is on going pressure on-line to generate great content – it’s the major driver for rankings, interest, shares and success. Let’s start with the basics -BodyRock is now a phenomenon – you’ve got well over half a billion views on You Tube.
Freddy – Yeah we’re just shy of 600 million now.
Jeremy – Is that a crazy number to you? Can you even believe that’s happening?
Freddy – Well, I will tell you when we started, I remember when we got to the 1 million mark. We managed to do that fairly quickly – a few months into making videos. That was my big goal – to get a million hits and then I remember looking at some of the big You Tubers at the time and one of them had just celebrated 300 million views and I was thinking to myself ok, what would it take to do this touch 300? I was sort of in awe of that 300 million number and then you sort of put it away and keep going.
You know numbers are great but you can’t ultimately rely completely on finding your inspiration from cracking this number or that. There has to be something more that drives you.
I remember when hitting half a billion views became my obsession. Then we did that and then you’re left with – what’s next? If that’s really the only thing that’s driving you you spend that fuel up really quickly. There’s not a lot to keep you incredibly inspired if your just sort of gauging the numbers, but that’s not to say you don’t celebrate those milestones, because they’re great and definitely something to be proud of. You have to find something deeper that the numbers for ongoing motivation however.
Jeremy – Absolutely. It’s clear from your videos the results your community are achieving are a huge motivator to the Bodyrock team. Some of the stories shared by your participants are really amazing. Bodyrock touches people’s lives in a positive way.
What was the spark that led you to create Bodyrock?
Freddy – I went to film school actually and then I did my post-graduate work in television and radio production around 2000. Believe it or not, at film school I didn’t learn digital, there wasn’t a digital editing system at that time – it was still splicing and cutting tape! It wasn’t really that long ago either – before the You Tubes of the world or any sort of easy way to get video up on the web. Hosting videos at that time was a sort of unknown. It was prohibitively expensive there was not an easy way to play it all back with limited bandwidth.
My big thing in life was I wanted to create television shows. I wanted to have my own channel and I didn’t have any idea how I would capitalise it or what it would necessarily be about but I wanted to be sort of the creative producer.
At school I was always coming up with ideas for different types of television shows and submitting those proposals to television channels all around the world saying that this would be a great idea for a show and that would be a great idea for a show, so that was my background.
You can see that in BodyRock a little bit because it has become its own channel. Once You Tube partnership programme started, it changed everything. People often ask who has been your biggest supporter or partner, and I’m always quick to say if it wasn’t for You Tube a lot of the stuff that you see right now wouldn’t be happening. They provided revenue and reach. They really have opened the door for content creators like us, whether or not you agree with all their policies or direction, I think everyone owes them a nod of respect or gratitude.
So I guess the BodyRock phenomenon had emerged from my desire to write and shoot a high quality vlog. It gave me the opportunity to come up with a show or concept that I could get out there in front of people.
YouTube removes completely the gatekeeper in terms of the television industry where you have to take an idea to someone and ask for permission to broadcast. You Tube it really opened the doors for people who were prepared to put in the graft and really work hard.
The content rises for a reason and I think it’s open right now for anyone who has an idea and a voice and who’s prepared to work on it. Essentially anyone could open up their own channel and niche.There’s so much opportunity out there right now it’s a really exciting time.
Jeremy – You have a niche channel, but even more than that you seem to have a really niche audience. I don’t know the stats exactly but looking at your Facebook page, it seems it’s a predominantly young female audience, which is maybe not what you would first assume.
Freddy – We discovered through Face book that 90% of the people interacting with us are women. That surprises people because the videos are considered “sexy” and people would assume that there was more of a male audience behind it but really it’s quite predominantly female. The feedback that we get from this audience is that they find the content really inspirational. If there was one key word a they use is that they’re inspired by the videos.
Jeremy – Yes, The content its really much more than the sum of the parts that you’re putting together – lifestyle, food, exercise advice. There is a real warmth and personality from your presenters that is connecting with your audience. I think I’ve mentioned to you previously about the Johari window and how appropriate disclosure within the videos (personal stories and ancedotes) increases a bond or relationship, and this seems to be a component of this connection.
So the You Tube partner programme was the cornerstone of turning Bodyrock.tv into a sustainable venture. What else do you do to generate revenue?
Freddy – Well when we started, even though we were interested in vlogging we really had no idea about like marketing or any of the monetisation possibilities. We really focused on the video content and that’s where we put all of our time.
You Tube provided the nucleus of our audience. The content gradually built up and people started coming over to the bodyrock.tv site and unlike a lot of people who are focused on becoming You Tubers, we started to build our platform at the same time. Our goal was never to just build a You Tube channel with a billion subscribers. I saw the site a fertile ground for people who are interested in interacting with the brand and the personalities on a deeper level. I wanted to create somewhere people who were interested could put down roots.
And you know at one point somebody I’m not sure who it was somebody described themselves as being a “bodyrocker.”
That’s something that came from the community and that’s when we started to see the culture of this movement establish itself and it really all happened organically. The people who were following us started to describe themselves as BodyRockers. That was the huge moment for me was when I realised that we had created a deep emotional connection and that we had to be really special and interesting.
When I was talking earlier about the numbers, I would say let’s hit 500 million or lets hit 600 million views that’s great but its when the people follow and love what you are doing, and we inspire them in some way – you’ve helped somebody in some capacity, the energy comes back and that’s what actually gives you the inspiration and drive to do something better each time.
That’s where are right now – asking how can we make this better. We listen to what the community want and what they need and what they have to say to us – the good and the bad, and you try to build on that and make it better. That’s where you get your creative spark and I think that’s where the energy comes from – not so much the numerical statistics and graphs.
Its almost like when you’re on a diet. You can check the scales to see that you’ve lost weight, or you can try your clothes on in the mirror and see how you feel and there is a much deeper sense of where you are holistically in your own skin. You check yourself in the mirror and decide I look better and I feel better. It’s the same way when you are interacting with your audience because those numbers they really don’t mean too much when it comes right down to it.
Jeremy – Absolutely it’s the thing between the rational and the emotional mind isn’t it? The emotional mind is the bigger driver if you can harness that then you can achieve almost anything really.
I think what you’re saying about the BodyRock.tv site is important. The only piece of real estate you actually control is that blog but you can leverage things like Facebook to help build a huge community. If you look at a typical discovery profile for your videos, your web site and mobile devices are significant drivers. The curves are also representative of “social learning”, i.e your content is heavily shared and goes “viral.”
Freddy – Face book is something that we came to very late in the game. We created our first page in November 2010, almost 2011 and really at the beginning of Facebook we weren’t really clear what to do with it. We knew that everybody had it. We were using it personally of course but as in terms of leveraging your brand we didn’t know too much about what to do. We used it like a newsletter mainly posting and tagging our videos and answering questions.
We have a really small team so by the time you have created the content, done the post production, updated the site and posted everything, the process is usually 16 hours and we try to do that a couple of times a week.
It takes time so we didn’t have a lot of time to invest in a Facebook strategy per se so what we did with it was sort of allow the community to guide where that went.
Very quickly we got idea of things that people wanted to see from us on Face book – the sort of questions they were asking and the things they were looking for. Out of that a strategy grew up, to guide what to post. We didn’t take control of the conversation, we allowed the audience to dictate the ebb and flow of the interaction there. It was really organic and there wasn’t a master plan at the beginning to take over the world!
We knew right from the beginning we had very little about any sort of online business but we did know but we did feel very comfortable about what we wanted to express in the content and we allowed the conversation to develop over time – the community really shaped bodyrocking to what it is right now.
Jeremy – And its interesting now to see what’s happening on Facebook. It’s a phenomenally supportive community. Whenever you get such huge exposure there is always going to be people with negative views (“haters gonna hate!”) but your community is a great asset in defending BodyRock.
Freddy – We do have a policy – we don’t mind if somebody disagrees. People can disagree or be critical of what we are doing as long as they do it in a respectful and intelligent way. We don’t allow people to be rude or personally attack anybody. If they cross that line then we may remove the conversation, but other than that it’s a fairly open forum and people do tend to be really supportive.
One thing we have started recently with Face book is a suite of applications called Wildfire Suite http://www.wildfireapp.com/products that is something we have just been working with. It allows us to have a much deeper connection and interaction with the community so that we can look at our Facebook as a hub for creating ideas that we can transfer directly to the site and into the videos.
Jeremy – I have not looked at the Wildfire suite, but their competition platform http://www.wildfireapp.com/products/promotion-builder is super slick and really easy to use for businesses to run viral competitions. Its certainly something I’m recommending. Their social media suite looks really promising.
So how do you manage the diverse digital streams – YouTube, Social and your site?
Freddy – Well that’s where the challenge is! The more you expand your point of contact the more time it really requires.
We signed up for a bunch of different social networks and what we found is the time invested in some wasn’t worth the return. You really have to decide how you invest your finite time, and for now have decided to put our resources into Facebook, and through Facebook, out to Twitter.
With Wildfire we can connect our YouTube account to Facebook too, so Facebook has become the front line in terms of social platforms for us.
Jeremy – Facebook does have some nice tools for managing their pages, as well and some good metrics about what messages have the best effect on the audience.
Freddy – Exactly.
Jeremy – And what’s your view on the stability of Facebook as an organisation with Mark Zuckerberg at the helm? I mean everyone is a bit twitchy, are you confident it’s here for the long run or at least 12 -24 months, which is a long time in social media!
Freddy – My point of view on it is that I don’t see anyone overtaking it in the near future. In my mind it has settled into being the predominant social network and I just don’t see anyone eclipsing it. Of course you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and you have to keep up in what’s happening out there on the landscape.
For instance Pinterest became a really important source of traffic for us, just out of nowhere some of our images were pinned a quarter of a million times. I saw that we need to pay attention to that!
Tumblr is also a place where a lot of our content gets re-posted so you are aware that there are opportunities but you have to decide where you’re going to put your chips down and for us it’s been Facebook.
Jeremy – That’s very true. Pinterest and tumblr are really taking off. I gave a presentation to my local Chamber of Commerce recently and I used the surfing analogy with regarding choosing social media networks. (see Video Slide 25 from Slidedeck http://j.mp/webbactive2012) Have you ever been surfing?
Freddy– I haven’t but I enjoy watching it.
Jeremy– So you sit out there past the break. Then you see the next swell coming. You’ve got a number of waves forming but only one of a set of seven will be the awesome wave. It’s all about spotting the right wave in the set, and riding it for as long as it is powerful and then getting off before it crushes you or disappears! So Facebook is the massive wave at the moment but you cant really ignore pinterest and tumblr and other up and coming web services.
Freddy – I guess you have got to have a team to catch the next wave as the previous one fades. Interestingly about Pinterest it actually made me look at our content differently. We had a picture that went viral on Pinterest but they had clipped off our logo, so we didn’t get any brand recognition or credit. Because of this, we actually changed the placement of our logo to make sure it was always close to the centre.
It made me realise with these new platforms emerging such as tumblr and Pinterest the power of a single photo can really impact your traffic so just taking another look at our images has really helped. We’ve seen really big increases via Pinterest – it became our third largest traffic source on the power of a handful of our images that made it on there.
You can think that you’re all about one thing, then the dynamics of whatever platform shift and make you realise that there’s opportunities that you maybe hadn’t highlighted, so it’s interesting when you sift through everything, how you can identify changes that can be made to your content.
Jeremy– Absolutely. It’s interesting like Google+ is really encouraging photographers because it seems that we all love a good image – there’s something about a great image that makes it very “share-y.” There was some suggestion that the reason that instagram was snapped up by Facebook was because it was generating so much sharing behaviour, and sharing builds networks. We seem to be more influenced by a great image than we all realised.
So what’s the future hold for BodyRock?
Freddy – I think what I always wanted to do in the beginning of this was create the best free online fitness channel. That’s sort of changed for me I want to create the best online fitness channel period. When people look at what we’re doing with BodyRock and I look at what I want to accomplish with it, I want people to assume that this is something that you would pay for – but it’s free!
I want to bring that level of excellence, quality and interaction that people would pay for and present that to them for free, make it accessible to everyone and put all the tools there for them.
That’s really what I’m focusing on building right now. In terms of the broadcast world my view is that if we keep doing the good digital creation, broadcast and the other media opportunities will come to us.
A lot of people started with online video and wanted to use that as a vehicle to get on to television. If it happens for us – great. I believe there’s a million+ people out there every single day that would benefit from BodyRocking with us.
I think that’s a realistic goal and that’s what we’re really aiming to accomplish. All the other things may happen as a by-product – that’s my belief at least. So we’re focusing on the content and striving to make that the best.
In the next eighteen months we are investing in production, we’re going to be shooting our new work outs starting next week on a Red camera (http://www.red.com/) which is far better, it’s essentially like a Hollywood movie quality camera.
Jeremy – I read that on your Facebook page and I was totally amazed – the blockbusters are filmed on Red!
Freddy – We’re doing everything we can to make the content better, to make the workouts better and listen to what the people want. That’s what brought the movement forward in the first place.
The mobile app was approved and its sitting in the app Store right now and we haven’t promoted that yet because the android version and the blackberry version kick in on Friday so when everything is ready we’ll announce our mobile app.
(The mobile app has now gone live, and straight to the top of the app rankings. It’s well worth a look as an example of the future of apps – it puts the community at it’s heart and is packed with interesting features to encourage sharing and interaction. Gamification is also used to good effect.)
We’re going to have a massive redesign of our platform that should be ready for the beginning of August. We are starting from scratch, rebuilding and really paying attention to how people use the site and what people need from the site, creating a really nice format so that people understand what BodyRock is and how to use it. We got a lot of things going on, a lot of projects we’re looking at, so I’m trying to keep my compass pointing due north and continue to create great content.
Jeremy – I totally agree the quality of the content that you’re generating and the variety of the workouts is great. I’m a massive fan of high intensity interval training as that has got me through last year’s ultra marathon events with not much time for training!
Are you sticking with WordPress?
Freddy – At the minute we’re looking at moving into something a little bit more robust. We kinda maxed out what’s possible on WordPress so I think we’re almost 90% sure we’re gonna be shifting to something else.
The other interesting thing that I’ve just been running around in my head lately is the concept of where people are experiencing our brand. It used to be that you would do everything you could to get people back to your site URL, and now there’s so many different ways for people to interact. Its more about getting your content to where they are in a seamless way. And so that’s something that I’m really looking into right now.
Jeremy – At the end of the day the most important thing you have is your brand and once its in some one’s head I think they’re naturally going to find on the platform of their choice. You’ve got a really strong brand to enable you to do this.
Freddy – One of the things I wanted to do was a careful re-branding. The previous logos for example were created for us by the community which was great but now we finally took the time to put some serious thought into our logo and identity. We want to create a solid foundation in terms of the redesign of the platform, and create an easy “on-ramp” for new Bodyrockers.
Jeremy – I saw Lisa Marie (BodyRock presenter) meeting up with some body rockers recently. I guess that’s really important – speaking to the community and finding out what the barriers are and how you can make it easy for people to start working out at home.
Freddy – We let people know we have this redesign in mind and have got a lot of great ideas so far. Our community has a strong sense of ownership over the brand so obviously we’re going to include them, their input, suggestions and creativity. It can only make the experience better.
Jeremy – I can’t wait to see what you’ve got up your sleeve, its just a fantastic achievement a fantastic brand. It’s been really nice to talk to you, and I wish you continued success.