The Making Of HuffPost's Most Successful Trump Story

Welcome to HuffPost’s Keeping It 100. From infusing our culture with data to figuring out how to reach Gen Z and cultivate niche distributed communities, we’ll give you an inside look at the hits and misses of HuffPost’s biggest bets. 

We live in a world of commoditized news. That’s not new. But during an election that took this to an extreme, standing out became an essential part of every publisher’s social distribution strategy. For HuffPost, this required an audience-first, rather than a content-first, approach: consciously crafting stories with angles our audience cares most about. 

That strategy paid off, and was nowhere more evident than with our most-read piece about President Donald Trump.  

When Trump signed a pro-abortion executive order in January, senior political reporter and politics managing editor Amanda Terkel initially co-bylined a straightforward news report. But an hour later, she decided to follow it up with another piece, zeroing in on how Trump was surrounded by white men when he signed the order. The government had legislated women’s bodies and choices without a single woman in sight, and it was important to drive that point home. 

“We knew that the Mexico City policy change was coming, so we made sure we had a piece ready to go that went into the background of the policy. It was very informative and we were able to get it up right away,” Terkel explained. “But when we were watching TV, we saw it was weird that Trump was surrounded by a bunch of men even though this was a policy that predominantly affected women and their bodies. We looked around and found a photo, someone made a GIF really quickly, and we felt that told the story better.” 

It worked: The story went viral with views peaking as high as 211,000 every 10 minutes. The story now has more than 9 million page views and counting, and is HuffPost’s top original piece from the entire election/post-election cycle. 

Eighty-five percent of the views came from social and almost 60 percent of the audience consisted of new visitors, meaning they had not visited HuffPost in the past 30 days. The organic reach of the post led to hundreds of thousands of social interactions, thanks to community groups on Facebook and Planned Parenthood on Twitter. Celebrities like Matt McGorry, of “Orange Is The New Black,” shared it too. 

The social success of the piece wasn’t a total surprise ― the photo and headline were the perfect pairing, and that packaging told the whole story in any feed. But the virality went beyond the article. HuffPost’s corresponding front page image (the “splash”) became a discussion topic unto itself. 

“Our splash was incredibly powerful,” Terkel said. “People on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were screen-shotting and sharing it. It encapsulated a lot of fears about the Trump administration. This was one of the first things he did and people were anxious to share it.” 

Peter Finocchiaro, HuffPost’s front page managing editor, noted how striking the images from the Oval Office were that day. Terkel’s story set the framework for his team, and they chose the splash headline “Room Full Of Men Screws Women.” 

“At that point, the trick for the front page team was simply to condense the main idea down to a few words to drive home the point,” he said. “A lot of the time, we’ll try to use punny wordplay to grab the readers’ attention, but we really didn’t need that here, and honestly it would’ve just distracted from what readers could see on their own. Describing what was happening in a simple, forceful way was all that the story needed. The key was to let it speak for itself.” 

We’ve seen this success elsewhere on HuffPost with pointed headlines, thematic listicles and unique lifestyle takes. 

Ultimately, the age of distributed content means that most readers will see multiple outlets cover breaking news events in the same way. However, by showing a different side of the story and using pointed language along with an eye-catching visual to stand out on social, we were able to make a mark not only on that day’s page views, but also in the wider conversation.

TL;DR: Seize those moments that can set your brand and coverage apart. It’s worth it. 

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Cavan Sieczkowski Deputy Director, News & Analytics

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