By Joe Pulizzi published May 12, 2011 Est Read Time: 3 min

The Skinny on Groupon’s Content Strategy

I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic Confab session yesterday featuring Brandon Copple, the managing editor for Groupon.

For those of you not familiar with Groupon, it’s a deal-of-the-day website launched in November of 2008 that now serves over 175 markets in North America.  Most recently, the founder turned down a billion dollar deal from Google.

So, in less than three years, Groupon has a multi-billion dollar valuation, turned its nose up at Google, has over 7,000 employees and over 70 million subscribers, and does more than 500 deals per day around the country.

Groupon Logo

And their competitive advantage is their content.

As the great Don Schultz says, competitors can copy anything and everything you have, except the way you communicate with your customers.  Groupon takes this to heart.  Let me tell you how they do it.

Groupon’s Editorial Goals

  1. Protect the customer experience.
  2. Protect the Groupon brand.
  3. Ensure deals are fair transparent and awesome.

An important note for all our content marketing strategies is that the customer experience goal for Groupon comes first.  Very important to your content mission.

The Goal of Each Piece of Content

Every piece of content that Groupon develops has two objectives:

  1. Describe the feature deal
  2. Entertain

The entertainment part is critical to Groupon’s content strategy.  They entertain with humor and take humor very seriously, but humor is never more than 20% of the overall copy.  Since the first objective is to describe the deal, that takes precedent.

Groupon believes that although the deals are primary, readers keep coming back in many ways to be entertained by the storytelling.  That draws them in, and ultimately gets them interested in the deal.

Groupon Editorial Principles

  • Respect. Assume readers are smart and busy. Never dumb things down. No advertising lingo because the readers will tune that out.
  • Independence. Never collaborate with merchants or sales on content…never.  Groupon’s content is their content and only their content to use.
  • Accuracy. Must verify all details with legions of fact checkers.
  • Transparency. Never oversell the product.  Nothing is ever too good to be true.
  • Editorial not advertising. If it smells like an ad, both Groupon and the deal lose out.

Elements of Groupon’s Style

Active Voice

  • Active creative language.
  • Sentences that jump off the page.
  • Creative verbs and descriptors.

Point of View

  • 3rd person. Minimize the 2nd person.
  • Groupon will never presume they know the reader that well.

Show Don’t Tell

This is key.  Groupon writers work to create pictures with words like…

Plush couches and velvet drapes swaddle patrons beneath Savior Lounge’s 15 foot ceilings.

Research

Only when a writer thoroughly understand the deal does she earn the privilege of writing creatively about it.

Groupon Editorial Staffing

Of Groupon’s 7,000 employees, they have 425 editorial employees. For Brandon’s team specifically, he oversees 101 writers and 43 voice editors.

In addition, Groupon employs:

  • 26 image designers.
  • 49 fact checkers.
  • 39 review researchers.
  • 22 copy editors.
  • 2 full time writer/editor trainers.
  • 4 creative recruiters (writers hiring writers).

Where do writers come from?

Most Groupon writers are young and begin at approximately $37,000 per year.

The majority are journalists, but others are creative writers, fiction writers, poets, artists, actors, musicians, filmmakers and copywriters.

The Groupon Process in Eight Steps (plus 1)

  1. Deal creation
  2. Image design
  3. Reviews
  4. Details
  5. Fact check
  6. Voice edit
  7. Copy edit
  8. Quality assurance
  9. Site edits (if there was anything wrong after publishing)

Groupon Lessons Learned

  1. Recruiting is the most important. Be sure you have writers hiring writers.
  2. Writing is a combination of in-house and freelance writers.
  3. Demystify the content process through rigorous training.
  4. Haters are better than silence.  Brandon’s point was that it is much better to have people saying negative things than nothing at all.  For every negative complaint they review to see if it was a process breakdown or something that can be ignored.
  5. Embrace constraints.  Standards and rules are key to success.
  6. Never use humor at another’s expense.
  7. Hire for potential, not experience.
  8. C-level buy-in is mandatory (their CEO, Andrew Mason, is a true evangelist for content marketing and original editorial creation).

Overall, what’s amazing about the Groupon story is that Groupon, more than anything else, is a media company.  All companies can learn a great deal about their model, even if some of us may not like their service.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the bestselling author of seven content marketing books including his latest, Content Inc. He has founded four companies, including the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), and his newest venture, The Tilt. His podcast series, This Old Marketing with Robert Rose, has generated millions of downloads from over 150 countries. He is also the author of The Random Newsletter, delivered to thousands every two weeks. His Foundation, The Orange Effect, delivers speech therapy and technology services to children in 35 states. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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