Swedish national daily Expressen likes to say that “Expressen is younger than ever thanks to its new viral sites.” It now reaches more than 40% of Sweden’s young adults. 

After seeing enormous growth potential in social media and the significant role it plays in people’s lives, Expressen created a social media desk in October 2013. The social media desk had as its goal not only to learn more about new journalistic and communicative possibilities, but also to utilise them to increase its total digital reach with readers — especially young ones — and build new target groups. 

Expressen has a tradition of journalism based in storytelling — a mix of news, entertainment, sport, and debate. The assignment of the social media desk has been to keep that journalistic profile intact, managing content to mirror that of its parent company, only with an innovative new viral twist.

This success led to the June 2014 creation of a development department, Expressen Labs, and from that came Omtalat (which means “what’s being talked about”). Under the management of the social media desk, Expressen became the first large media company in Sweden to create a BuzzFeed/Upworthy-like viral site in Swedish. It is a stand-alone brand for a younger audience that can gradually be integrated into the Expressen operation if desired. 

Omtalat, a BuzzFeed-like site targeting young audiences, debuted in 2014.
Omtalat, a BuzzFeed-like site targeting young audiences, debuted in 2014.

Omtalat started as a brand strategy with no support, and its distribution was solely based on social media exposure. Most of its traffic has been created through Facebook posts and campaigns, with no supporting exposure on Expressen’s main sites, front, or main pages. So not only was Omtalat a truly social brand, it did not use page footprint needed for core products. 

Nonetheless, its following grew quickly over the summer of 2014, when most of Sweden’s population is on holiday. It was the perfect time for virally presented content: people wanted to be both informed and entertained. 

With only five people on staff at the start of Omtalat, Expressen soon found it needed to scale up. By February 2015, it had a managing editor and four reporters/editors seven days a week — 20 journalists in all. This added journalistic capacity has brought with it special skills in foreign reporting, debate/politics, and regular news to address growing interest in more complex questions, while remaining accessible. 

The social media desk has learned quickly which content works best for viral distribution: it utilises not only site performance reports, but continuously adds and learns new tools for statistics and publishing in social media. 

Omtalat’s design took a step away from Expressen’s, with a younger, more digital graphic design, although the Expressen logotype appears at the bottom of Omtalat’s first page and article pages, along with the publisher’s note. It now has more than 2 million mobile views weekly and has had sibling sites launched in Norway, Germany, and Turkey, with versions whose foci is on pets, sports, or gaming.

The insights from this work have led Expressen to a whole new way of working with content and product development. Both the news and development operations have become more flexible, fast moving, and collaborative. Further, Omtalat has played a role in the more than doubling of Expressen’s mobile traffic — in less than nine months. 

These insights have also helped the core brand by diversifying Expressen’s mobile traffic sources with the result of making the media house less dependent on exposing content on the main site’s first pages. It has a reach of between 4 and 4.5 million Facebook users in Sweden (population 9.7 million), and in 2014, had 59% more interactions on Facebook than its competitor.