Content with a Cause: Wattpad and Ben & Jerry’s Celebrate LGBTQ+ Youth
Storytelling is as old as humanity itself. It’s something we’ve always done as a means of connecting with one another, and for many, telling our unique histories can be a cathartic exercise. Today, sharing stories with friends and family, writing our thoughts in journals and publishing works are still popular methods of disseminating our experiences — but the internet has added another layer of possibilities.
Alongside the ability for users to share their stories, online platforms are incredibly social. Readers can interact with the writers, creating a sense of community that’s absent from a traditional print publishing or private journaling environment. Previously, authors relied on feedback from reviewers and only interacted with their readership at events like book signings; now, they’re at their audience’s fingertips, sharing stories online and publishing life and writing updates on social media.
This creative sharing mentality is well embodied in Wattpad, a global online community of writers and readers made up of over 70 million users.
“We enable anyone in the world to create and allow their story to be discovered,” says Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships at Wattpad. “If you’re a reader, we allow you to find stories about topics or areas that you’re passionate about. We’re really giving everyone a voice and that’s dovetailed into our brand work.”
With such a strong community of writers and readers, particularly those in Gen Z, Wattpad was a perfect fit for Ben & Jerry’s Canada, who wanted to take their support of and involvement in the LGBTQ+ community further. More than a brand partnership, the “Pen Your Pride” campaign shared the authentic stories of members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
The brand and publisher worked together to host an incredible write-a-thon during Pride month. The contest encouraged writers to reflect on times when they’ve felt proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community and submit their stories (real or fictional) to Wattpad. We sat down with Stefanyk to chat about the campaign and how Wattpad strives to create a safe creative space for its users.
Pressboard: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your career and what led you to Wattpad in the first place.
Chris Stefanyk: I’ve been at Wattpad for close to six years now. My background is management consulting and strategy consulting, and strategy and start-ups were always my thing. Digital is just a natural next step. As you do in the land of start-ups, we were trying everything from the Kickstarter-style model, to paid content, to a tip jar. Eventually we landed on something called native advertising, which four or five years ago was the sexy term in our space.
One of our core values is inclusivity. We believe everyone has a voice and they should have a platform in which they can share that voice and be who they are.
We ran our first campaign with 20th Century Fox for The Fault in Our Stars, a [Young Adult] book turned into movie – a perfect fit for Wattpad, if you know anything about our audience. The metrics came back and they kind of knocked us all off our seats: close to four million minutes of branded content in a six-week campaign. And so, at that point we just paused everything, and we were like, “We need to scale this beast.”
What is Wattpad and why was it created?
Wattpad is the world’s largest community of readers and writers – or an easy way to put it is “the social storytelling platform.”
On Wattpad, a story can be anything from a Haiku poem all the way to a 100-chapter, magnum opus sci-fi story. So, literally everything in between. We want people to think of it as, if you want to get your story in the world, the first place you think of is Wattpad.
We’re heavily Gen Z and younger millennial, and female. It’s funny, often when I’m speaking at conferences or to partners, a myth that I often have to kind of debunk is that this younger generation, Gen Z, still reads. People are often blown away that not only do they read, but they’ll spend an average session time on Wattpad of 37 minutes. So, this concept of following a story that you’re in love with and ritually falling into it and being obsessed with it still exists.
We are at over 70 million monthly users today, over 565 million story uploads on the platform, and the community is spending over 22 billion hours on the platform per month.
Talk to us about the “Pen Your Pride” campaign, as well as how Ben & Jerry’s got involved.
It’s a campaign that’s near and dear to our hearts. We really saw this turning point [in the platform] where there were self-created communities that embodied positivity. LGBT had been active for a number of years, and that’s what really hit a chord. And so, when we were talking, we were like: “We have one of the six safest places online for LGBT youth as voted on by the Daily Dot. And our community has spent over 700 million minutes reading LGBT-based content in the last 30 days.”
We essentially asked our entire community to create a story around their experiences being a part of the LGBT community or being an LGBTQ+ ally. [With every submission], Wattpad and Ben and Jerry’s donated a dollar to The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), which is an international LGBT+ advocacy group.
We had set the lofty goal of 10,000 original stories in a month. We had never done something at that level around a branded campaign before, and the results ended up being over 17,500 original stories. And the comments we were seeing were amazing because people were actually like, “I wouldn’t put this story into the world unless you guys had done this, and I’m so happy to see you guys supporting this community.”
How important is it to Wattpad as a business to encourage diversity on the platform?
It’s ingrained in our DNA. We’ve always wanted to be a place for inclusive voices, and you can even see it at the corporate level – just through our approach to hiring and the way we conduct ourselves internally. If you go to our website, one of our core values is inclusivity. It is essential to everything we do. We believe everyone has a voice and they should have a platform in which they can share that voice and be who they are. And with that, of course, comes a real honest relationship between us and our users.
You guys have started experimenting with different mediums, like TV and movies. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Our Wattpad Studios division is essentially focused on being a data-driven IP company. So, they’re looking at all the data and then saying: “Okay, this story has had a million reads in a month’s time, now let’s go and talk to the NBC Universals and Paramounts of the world and see what they can do.”
Last year, we had some really amazing proof points. Netflix came out with a movie called The Kissing Booth, [which] was first written on Wattpad by a 15-year-old Welsh girl close to five years ago. Then Penguin Random House mixed it up and turned it into a physical book, and then Netflix ended up acquiring the film rights and it was beyond successful. Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer at Netflix, ended up coming out last year at the end of May at a conference and saying its one of the most watched Netflix Originals of all time and one of the most watched movies this year.
The comments we were seeing were amazing because people were actually like, “I wouldn’t put this story into the world unless you guys had done this, and I’m so happy to see you guys supporting this community.”
[To promote the book and the series], we did a really large community-wide writing contest around creating your own version of a high school romance story, which is very Wattpad. We also delivered a suite of targeted trailer ads to all the folks that were interested in high school romance stories and those that had engaged with The Kissing Booth previously.
We have a final, very appropriate, question for someone that works at a platform that’s focused on stories: do you have a favorite book of all time and why?
On the fiction side, probably On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Whenever I’m traveling, it’s that getaway, free-spirited book that has always resonated with me.