Genesis is a global IT company started and headquartered in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Genesis has co-founded multiple successful companies, such as healthcare app BetterMe or major African online marketplace Jiji, as well as big news and entertainment media ventures.
A few years ago, Ukrainian business news outlet LIGA.net dubbed Genesis “BuzzFeed of Podil”, referring to a neighbourhood in Kyiv. The business model for the company’s media projects is similar to the one used by BuzzFeed or Daily Mail – monetising huge traffic generated primarily by feel-good entertainment content, which is widely distributed thanks to the company’s mastery of Facebook and other social platforms.
Genesis runs different media ventures targeting different markets. One of them is Sub-Saharan Africa. Genesis Media Emerging Markets (GMEM) operates a network of media outlets in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa. The overall number of employees includes over 250 people, divided into separate teams, each headed by a local editor-in-chief. GMEM’s news and entertainment platforms get over 100 million pageviews and 25 million unique users monthly.
We spoke with Yelena Boginskaya, who is based in Kyiv and heads Genesis Media Emerging Markets as co-CEO, about her experience managing a team of over 250 remote workers from across the world.
At first, Boginskaya says, it is essential to clarify the goals. What do you want to achieve, what are your prospects in this market, what traffic goals are you targeting, and what niche do you plan to occupy?
After that, it becomes more clear which team you will need. The next question is, what specialists with what set of skills do you need for each position?
Next, you need to understand how to define their effectiveness. By what metrics will you assess that these people are meeting expectations?
The final step should be a visualisation of the workflow. After it’s done, you have a clear picture of the processes and an understanding of which stages of content creation you have and which need extra control.
For example, Boginskaya’s teams have processes such as selecting news (what they cover and who decides it), fact-checking, and reviewing the quality of content before publication.
Using the right tools for measurement is also important. GMEM uses CrowdTangle, Twitter Trends, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo to search for news. Each team member has access and understands what they are for.
Managing remote teams at scale is difficult. The first challenge involves onboarding and the transfer of expertise.
“It is hard to transfer expertise remotely. You can conduct training or design guidelines for articles. But if we’re talking about video content, it’s more difficult to pass on expertise, because you can’t remotely train a person how to shoot… a TV show,” Boginskaya says.
Another challenge is understanding the local context. Although GMEM is headquartered in Ukraine, content creators are located on the ground in respective countries. They need to deeply understand the culture, the problems people face, their humour, the way they speak. Therefore, GMEM works with local teams led by local managers.
Establishing efficient communication within the team is also challenging. At GMEM, executives who work in Kyiv and deal with more strategic topics regularly communicate with local managers. It’s difficult to understand from a distance what the atmosphere is like in the team, so having a strong local manager solves this issue.
For remote work to be efficient, all processes at GMEM are regulated, and guidelines are prepared for any stages of content creation. “It is difficult to find people who will be 100% suitable for the position. That’s why the people we have now in managerial positions are those we raised internally,” Boginskaya says. Experienced journalists have personal development plans. Managers check what soft and hard skills reporters need to grow to effectively manage their team.
GMEM only hires people who the company believes can cope with remote work. For example, “if a specialist is a great expert but has underdeveloped communication skills or does not share our values, we will not accept them to the team…” Boginskaya says. Remote work experience is also crucial. GMEM hires people with skills in organising their working day from home, making a point to check for this during a job interview.
Boginskaya believes that media businesses can operate under the same principles as any other business. Of course, media companies have an essential role in society — that’s why they must meet the professional standards of journalism. But they can still work as a normal business.
GMEM was built by people who had more experience with tech startups than media. Its leaders believe this helped avoid common biases and implement result-oriented culture from the very beginning by measuring everything at each stage of content creation.
Their editorial team has KPI for traffic, and the goal is not only for total traffic but also for traffic sources, such as Google (organic traffic), Tier1 (US, UK) traffic, Facebook traffic. Each editor has a KPI for views per quarter.
For example, for Nigeria’s Legit.ng team in Q2 the overall KPI for traffic was 143/145/150 million pageviews (based on the amount of resources invested), including 13+ million Tier 1 traffic and 52+ million organic traffic. They managed to get 158 million overall, including 15 million for Tier 1, and 62 million organic traffic.
There is a KPI for the number of articles published by a person. There are KPIs for the number of longer analytical articles. The company also has KPIs for comments from experts.
“People don’t like changes, and you have to work with it. We implemented some KPIs over time. We set all metrics with a certain goal and try to explain its value to our employees. For the change to take root, it is necessary to convey its value,” Boginskaya says.
At the same time, constant monitoring over implementation is also necessary, GMEM leaders believe. Quarterly goals are broken down into monthly goals, monthly goals are broken down into weekly goals. Each week, local managers communicate with journalists to check how the plan is being followed. The managers’ goal is to motivate employees and provide additional training if needed.
Boginskaya says that not all people in the media field can work with KPIs. Therefore, they hire those who feel comfortable with numbers. “At the interview stage, you can ask them how many views their most successful article has received. If they name a number, then it is important for them…”, she explains.
“Journalists are motivated by different things. Some by covering crucial topics for the audience, some by views, some by working for a company with a sufficiently big name,” Boginskaya reflects.
Boginskaya says managers need to explain the connection between these motives. For instance, one can cover an important topic, but what is the point if no one sees the article?
The same goes for the brand. Quality content from a big brand gets a higher number of views and can make a difference.
In terms of impact, GMEM has had stories of people finding work or having their lives changed for the better as a result of their coverage. For example, a local outlet published a story about a girl who was not accepted to school because of albinism; after the story was published, a sponsor read it and paid for her education.