The Guardian had a challenge to rise and meet: Reaching today’s busy audience that is bombarded with information. News reading can be time-pressured, especially online where social media provides constant distraction.

Knowing that we couldn’t change audience behaviour, The Guardian decided to change its own mindset and approach it as journalists, without compromising editorial standards or values. It transpired not only to be possible, but exciting and deeply rewarding.

We created our first platform-specific​ (F​acebook)​ and device-appropriate​ (mobile)​ video strand, called Dab. The name was chosen because the model is designed for ​people who ​dip in and out of news. We focused on helping people stop and take notice, letting go of old assumptions that consuming news is necessarily time consuming, and that news has a high bar to entry.

With Dab, we wanted to reach new audiences​: global, mobile, younger, older. We aimed to grab​ the attention and imagination of these new readers​​, by telling universal human stories and presenting digestible news in creative ways.

We designed from the audience out, without assuming we knew what’s best for them — and we knew we could find new audiences on social. Because Facebook is the biggest social platform, with most users browsing on mobile, we started there.

We also knew that Facebook users love video, consuming more than 100 million hours per day.​ This became our testing ground for creative, digital storytelling, informed by audience insight, and with core Guardian journalism at its heart.

Dabs are essentially readable​ news pieces, presented as bright, dynamic videos. The clips don’t require audio (most people watch Facebook videos without sound); however, if someone does listen, they hear carefully chosen music that moves and punctuates the narrative.

Dab visuals are a mix of video, text, and graphics. Edits flow with definite pace, with words or images that can be read in an instant. We put no onus on the viewer to slow down in the fast-paced social media environment. Instead, we structure dabs to grab hold within seconds and not let go, frontloading key information and ending in a way that leaves viewers thinking or feeling something surprising.

One Dab can tell a big story in new way and, therefore, to a new audience. The next Dab can take a small or unusual story to people who might never have otherwise found it. The best Dabs are those that function as shareable social tokens, prompting conversation in the real world and across wider social networks.

This was a completely new editorial and production grammar for The Guardian. It was the first time we committed to making video specifically for off-platform social media, rather than The Guardian Web site. To create the videos, we had to relearn technical skills and give ourselves the freedom to make mistakes.

An example of the beautiful graphics and video used to create successful Facebook Dabs for The Guardian.
An example of the beautiful graphics and video used to create successful Facebook Dabs for The Guardian.

Dab is now a year old. The strand has 200 million views from 145 videos, and growing. Views per video average around 1.4 million. Large viewing figures are a rush, but the level of engagement is what gives Dab a sense of purpose — especially from new and varied audiences, both broad and narrow. 

When we cover science, environment, social justice, global development, and education stories in particular, we receive unprecedented levels of positive reaction, comments, and sharing. Depending on the nature and topic of the story, the comments are most often a delightful mix of interest, emotion, surprise, and gratitude — balanced by questioning and healthy skepticism, which we welcome and to which we endeavour to respond.

The fact this positive and productive online engagement is so forthcoming is heartening to us at The Guardian. The fact that we’re giving it a home and an identity feels like a rare and exciting privilege for a major news outlet.