Plant Based News Website: plantbasednews.org
Plant Based News Instagram: @plantbasednews
Producing with Purpose Instagram: @producingwithpurpose
On this episode of Producing with Purpose, presented by Noskin, I chat with Robbie Lockie, co-founder and co-director of Plant Based News. Robbie grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to the U.K. when they were around 18, where they amassed significant experience in the design industry. They have since gone on to build a mammoth empire in the form of Plant Based News, so I was so seriously excited to talk to them.
“Our YouTube channel is the biggest (platform). What we struggled with was where to put our energy, because obviously there’s so many social media channels. Our focus has always been on video; we’re a video-first platform.”
Plant Based News has evolved over the years into the world’s leading vegan news platform. It produces information, education, conscious living advice, articles and videos across its social channels, reaching 70 million people a month.
Plant Based News received an early investment from someone who realised the importance of what they were doing. This allowed Robbie and their co-founder Klaus to focus all of their energy into the business, accelerating growth and getting them to where they are today. PBN had a lot of volunteers in the early days; many of those interns are still working with PBN on a permanent, full-time basis and have been instrumental in expanding the company.
As a small business, Robbie says you’ve got to be really scrappy about things. You have to work and utilise free resources like Unsplash and Canva, as well as working remotely. Optimising time and resources has been the major challenge for Robbie and the team.
“As users, we’re being bombarded with advertising all the time. Your organic content does need to stand, and sometimes that means being a little bit less perfectionist about it and actually focusing on the message.”
One thing that I’ve noticed a shift in is this: the more raw and authentic your content, the more people engage with it. You don’t have to worry about making it look too pristine. Robbie agrees, and thinks if you spend too much time on your content, it can end up looking like an advertisement and ultimately underperform.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress; focus on the watchability, readability or shareability of your content. This is how it gathers traction and audience. Eventually, it will end up on the Instagram Discover page. That’s where you have to aim. You have to create things that will create discussion, entertain, inspire, amaze, even occasionally create controversy. Think about the signals you want your audience to give the algorithm.
“If you put all your (vegan) eggs in one basket, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot, because obviously if you lose that one revenue stream your whole business can go under.”
For Robbie, becoming profitable is about diversifying your revenue streams. Plant Based News is profitable after almost five years in business, which is rare. They decided early that they would spread themselves out over every platform, which spread them thin in the early days. But it means they have many streams of income and aren’t dependent on one single platform, which can be dangerous if the company suddenly decides to switch up their algorithms. It’s about trial and error and testing things.
Building and sustaining a core relationship with your customers is also crucial. That’s how you build stability and balance. Robbie isn’t quite happy with the stability as it stands, but thinks it will come in time. Robbie is in the DMs of the PBM Instagram every day, getting a feel for how their audience is responding to their content. It’s also imperative to build your email and text lists; one-to-one relationships are integral, and you’re not held back by algorithms.
“Planning your content is a really important part of this game. Making sure that you know what you’re doing in advance, even if it’s just a week. Planning that stuff out so you can organise your calendar and your diary is really important.”
There are about ten people in the Plant Based News team full-time. They aim to double that by the end of the year if possible. Robbie’s role is around content and creative direction. They focus on the social media aspects and make sure that everything the company is putting out is verified, formatted and strategised.
I was interested in getting Robbie’s take on certain aspects and features of social media platforms. The best way I could think of doing that was to borrow Gary V’s underrated/overrated system. Here are Robbie’s thoughts…
This depends on your strategy; Lives are overrated if you never do them. The algorithm won’t recommend you and you’ll get no viewers. However, if you’re doing them consistently, you’ll get seen. So plan them consistently and make sure you stick to the schedule.
Massively overrated, in Robbie’s opinion. No matter the quality of the content, people just don’t seem to stick around to watch longform content on Instagram. They have primed an audience for a short attention span. For Robbie, there’s no point in putting the effort in when people won’t watch it anyway.
Massively underrated. Robbie thinks a lot of people just see it as a place where teenagers dance in front of their phone, but it actually has a huge audience. For Plant Based News in particular it’s a really useful platform, as most of the people who watch and comment on posts are non-vegan. It’s also a good opportunity to serialise content and get people hooked.
“Efficiency plus consistency equals success.”
One thing I was really interested to ask Robbie was if there has been a change in social media strategy as the PBN account has grown. They say no – the strategy has been unchanged all along. Consistency, consistency, consistency, and creativity as well. The content strategy was adapted as the presence expanded; for example, they made their content more palatable by not going hard on animal rights campaigning, as it can be a tough cause to get people involved in.
Now that they’ve reached a point of significant engagement, they’re beginning to bring more hardline vegan content back into the mix. Robbie believes that they have to make the lifestyle fun and approachable. Then once the audience is in, you let them know about the more sobering, occasionally horrific aspects of animal consumption. Building that sense of trust and community first is vital.
“If you want people to write about what you do, you have to make it interesting. There has to be some kind of hook. What about you is special? You have to dig deep and find something that is uniquely your own. And if you don’t have it, you have to get out into the world and make it.”
Lastly, I was (somewhat selfishly!) interested in hearing Robbie’s advice for businesses and brands who are just starting out; what’s the best way to start building a media presence?
Robbie says there’s no secret formula, but there is a basic principle: make sure it’s interesting. Some kind of backstory or personal story is critical. The other aspect is your USP. What’s unique about your product and what it does? What is it about you that’s unique compared to your competitors?
Robbie cites Dove Soap as an example. In the early days, Dove was struggling to stand out from the crowd. So the marketing team got together and came up with the idea of a moisturising cream bar, as opposed to just a bar of plain old soap. That had never been done before and it propelled the company to where they are today. If you want people to notice, you have to create something unique!