Brut, a six-month-old French digital video publisher, is already surpassing the country’s biggest news outlets in terms of social engagement, particularly amongst millennials. The company is small, only 12-15 people, the fanciest camera they have is an iPhone 7, and it’s CEO, Guillaume Lacroix, can’t remember if Brut has a homepage or not. It does but it’s sparse — populated only with links to social accounts. That’s because the company publishes all its original videos on social media and nowhere else.
Brut is approaching half a million followers and earned more than 80 million video views in May. They were first to go live from Les Champs-Elysées in the aftermath of a terror attack, and got 6.5 million views. Brut’s averages 430,000 views for each video. “We wanted to create something that you can’t see on TV,” Lacroix says. “Facebook gives us the opportunity to start from nowhere, from scratch, and to create some of the most powerful digital media in France right now.”
Lacroix takes us through how Brut has approached using video on Facebook to become a major voice during the French elections.
How did Brut start?
My partner, Renaud Le Van Kim, and I produced some of the most well-known shows in France, like the French version of Saturday Night Live and our editorial producer, Laurent Lucas, was a senior editor for 10 years at Le Petit Journal (equivalent of The Daily Show).
A year ago, we knew the campaign was coming, and I felt it would be cool to have on my Facebook feed 5 to 10 short videos throughout the day that can give me some clue of what’s happening in the election. Something that would be more direct, that uses the code of a social network. There was lack of this in France. No one else was keeping up with the election in election time.
Why Facebook specifically? Why is this format better for what you wanted to do than your previous roles?
One of our big claims at Brut is that we create a direct link between what’s happening in the news and the people that are following us. When you’re a TV channel you need big cameras and satellites. Facebook gives you power to create great content with just an iPhone 7, and then people share it.
Facebook is a great opportunity for our content to reach and be seen by communities that are very engaged with a subject. For instance, if I would’ve done a video about sexism in politics on the evening news, it would been seen by a lot of people, but I’m not sure they would’ve been engaged. When we do it on Brut, it’s seen by millions, plus they comment and share. Sharing itself is making a statement.
Why is having that kind of engagement so important?
Sharing and comments on Facebook are incredible. One third of our content is inspired from readers comments. With sharing you have a strong sense of what’s working and what your community cares about.
I think we didn’t know this at first, but we use Facebook to find and connect with communities of people. Why is that important? If you know someone in your community, you’re going to try and understand what they’re saying even if you disagree. Obviously we sometimes get extremist comments, but 90% are people who are having an actual conversation. We want to start conversations, bridge that social discussion and bring that back to the news.
What’s your overall approach to creating videos?
What we did was target some very specific communities with a tone that makes them engaged. We create videos focused on politics and society aimed to millennials. We were initially going for comedy — telling news through that lens. But we realized what works better is intelligence. When you speak to your viewers with intelligence and provide a new point of view, that’s what people share. All our videos are original with a cool use of graphics. They’re clear, direct, and make sense.
People asked why do this if young people don’t care about politics anymore. First, they do! And when you produce intelligent content in the right tone, Facebook can help you reach anyone.
What kind of videos does Brut publish on a typical day?
We do 5 to 6 videos a day. One has to provide a smart angle on something everyone’s talking about. Another explains something very simply and answers a question. It’s fact checking with a tone. We see on Google Trends that people are asking very basic questions that aren’t being answered elsewhere. If securing a minimum income for everyone in France is a relevant topic, our video answers “What is a minimum income?”
Another video has to make you laugh, or smile. This is our mashup of the day, mixing pop culture and society. Then its important to have one video that lets you meet a person and get to know them. We also do one live each day.
What are some of the best practices you follow for each video?
Each video has two objectives, to get people to watch and get them to share. Then each video has three things.
First, it has a very clear editorial promise in the first three seconds. It’s super important to know what this video is all about in one sentence, or even just 2 words. It needs to be clear. Next, we need to reinforce that premise visually. Then, it needs to surprise. It can be moving, intelligent, funny, and the final 5-10 seconds have to be strong. You’re going to share because of that ending.
We had a video of a woman speaking in parliament in Sweden while holding a newborn while talking about poverty in Africa. It was a surprising visual combined with an emotional and impactful speech. Our first video was of Francois Hollande. It showed a split screen of him when he ran for president and another while he was in office. They were talking to each other. Visually it was clear, and the premise worked.
How do you make sure that people recognize it’s a Brut video, and build loyalty to your brand?
There’s so much video on Facebook that we want it to have a very strong graphic identity. We’re a small company and we spend a lot of time on our artistic direction and design — the logo, editing, video graphics. We developed a special kind of timing in our editing that is direct and emphasizes our points. We subtitle it in a distinct way.
You started Brut with a live video and have consistently gotten a lot of views on your lives. What have you done to have success in that format?
We have a young journalist, Remy Buisine, with a cool story. He grew up in a small village in the north of France, without a lot of income. He went to Paris to become a journalist, but couldn’t get hired anywhere. He realized the best way to be a journalist was to just take his phone and start going live. He developed this specific skill and style. He is very authentic and engages directly with his community. It’s a very different kind of reporting because viewers can interact, ask direct questions to Remy, and the community can be involved in what’s going on.
We use Facebook Live to empower you as a watcher. When you’re with us, you’re in the middle of the crowd, and readers can ask questions of our journalists about what they see. They can ask if the protesters are trying to provoke, or if the police are overreacting. With head-to-head interviews, viewers are basically right there and it makes it harder for a trained politician not to answer questions directly — they have a whole community responding and calling them out in real time.
There was a recent terrorist attack on Les Champs-Elysses and Remy was the first to be on site going live. We got over 8 million views. But breaking news isn’t what we’re after. We want the most intelligent point of view rather than the first. We talked for 2.5 hours with a French journalist and it got 1.5 million views.
Now that you’ve seen what’s working, how does Brut expand?
We just launched in the U.S. We’ve seen that we can engage certain communities and want to expand that.
We’ll be going into native advertising. Today, people don’t care where the news comes from, as long as it is accurate, makes sense, and is interesting. Right now we are engaged with a French retailer, kind of like Walmart, that sells produce without using pesticides. So we’ll start building stories with them. Our first will be a look at what world without bees will look like, since that’s one reason they don’t use pesticides. That’s a great story, backed with facts and information, no matter who is sponsoring it.
We’re adding Brut Sport in French and English using an international editorial voice so that we can speak to everybody. We created Brut Pop to test a lot of verticals: entertainment, science, food, animals, etc. How can we speak about those topics with our own tone? Then, we’re going to go to Germany, UK and Japan, and then focus on local markets, where we think there is huge opportunity for a social-first model.