Travis Bernard: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Travis Bernard

Travis Bernard’s Q&A Session is happening on July 7th 2015 2pm EST

Travis Bernard is a specialist in audience development, social media strategy, and digital analytics. In 2014, he joined the TechCrunch team to lead social media and audience development.Travis has spent most of his career working for advertising agencies, but in 2013 he joined AOL as a member of the Audience Development team within AOL Analytics. For over a year, Travis helped AOL’s editorial sites use social media to increase traffic and build brands through a data-driven approach.Travis is originally from Maryland, and he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Travis currently lives in San Francisco.
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Travis Bernard leads audience development and analytics at TechCrunch.


The Q&A Session with David was held on July 7th, 2015. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

Hey guys – it’s Travis. I’m guessing this is the channel for the AMA.

Welcome. Yes, this is the one. I hope you are prepared for the avalanche of questions coming.

Sure – but I type slow.

  1. We’re building business phone system that integrates with your CRM, Helpdesk and other SAAS’s that people are using. What would you tell us to consider? Where do you think phone systems are going in terms of marketing/business?
  2. What are some new social media tools that you recommend?

I can’t really speak to your first question. I haven’t worked with CRMs in over 3 years. I did some marketing work for the National Guard years ago, and phone systems were a huge part of what they did…I just wasn’t really involved in that part of the business.

For your second question… what are you trying to do (monitor traffic, social listening, influencer outreach, etc.)? There are a million tools out there… please be more specific.

Thanks to number 1, and number 2 – Nothing specific, I am more looking for lesser known tools/upcoming tools that you highly recommend (something not everyone has heard of).

Sure…this is a pretty cool one. I just talked with them this week. Basically, it allows you to use your Instagram account to send traffic back to your site Another good one is Canva for creating beautiful social media design that looks like it came from a pro. While I’m on the photo kick…another great one for GIF making My favorite social tools are Naytev, Social Flow, Simple Reach or Parsely, and the Facebook debugger ( Those I use on a daily basis.

Hey Travis, do you guys use dynamic product ads for TechCrunch articles?

We don’t use dynamic Facebook product ads for our articles, but we do use them to sell tickets for Disrupt.

Okay, do the social networks let you beta test cool new features first?

Yes – I’ve been involved in a number of tests, including Twitter’s most recent “Collections.” I’m working on a test with Flipboard right now too.

How was it working at AOL vs TC offices?

It’s completely different. TC operates like a startup. AOL/Verizon operates like a giant corporate Death Star.That said…it’s great to have resources within AOL to help us when we need it.

What is your day to day like over at TechCrunch?

I usually spend the first two hours of the day reading TechCrunch and posting articles with my team to the TC Facebook and Twitter channels. We spend a ton of time on headline writing and headline testing for Facebook since it’s a pretty powerful force for driving traffic. The rest of my day is spent working on business deals, vetting new tech, setting up Facebook and Twitter advertising for our events, and working with our product team to make TechCrunch the best place on the internet.

Is Disrupt the biggest money maker in the TC eco system?

What I can say is that Disrupt SF is definitely our biggest event (compared to Disrupt NY and Disrupt London). Events are huge for us.

What do you think of all the Reddit drama?

Oh man…Reddit is crazy right now, but I’m glad they issued a statement. The best thing I’ve read about it is from one of our writers yesterday

Have you had any issues scaling FB reach (budgets not being exhausted for campaigns) and if so, how have you addressed them?

Yes – two tips 1) Increase bid prices 2) Increase the size of your target audience in each ad set(generally I aim for at least 1M users per ad set).

How do you split test your article headlines?

Use a tool like Naytev.

Are you seeing more traffic from Facebook or Twitter? What do you think is the BEST value for each one? And which social media platform do you think that has been ignored?

More from Facebook, but we have one of the strongest Twitter audiences on the planet. I’d argue that it’s the most influential audience for TC…it’s our power users and we’re growing like crazy (just passed 5.3M followers). As far as value goes, it depends on your goal. For us as a publisher with a focus on traffic…Facebook and Twitter are the most important. For our event marketing efforts, Instagram is huge.Tumblr has been ignored, and it is huge. BuzzFeed sources more articles from Tumblr than any other place (including Reddit).

What’s your favorite social media platform?

My favorite platform is Facebook. It’s still the best. I prob use Twitter more though, but that’s the industry I work in, right?

How do less known start-ups get featured in TC?

If you build cool stuff, it will make enough noise, and we’ll cover it. The writers don’t like getting pitched. Focus on your product and we’ll find you.

Can you expand though? Where are the writers looking? What are the typical paths of discovery?

I can’t really speak to it much more than that. I’m not a reporter, and each of them operates in a different way. I will say that we definitely keep an eye on investments from big VCs firms, YC, 500 Startups, etc. Those companies are always on our radar.

I may be pushing it. But if they don’t like to be pitched what’s the best way to approach them?

Not all disliked being pitched. Just make sure the message isn’t a blast email… it needs to be personal.

What’s the most useful things you’ve learned recently?

If you don’t want to do something…say no. Just as in 50 Shades of Grey, you need to have hard limits, points you won’t let people push you past.

AOL does a lot of display advertising, does TC utilize their inventory at all (, etc.)?

Yes – but we prefer to sell our own inventory.

How is the sale to Verizon going to affect the content being published at TC?

It won’t change anything, other than the fact that we might have more resources to do cool new stuff.

To follow up, do you foresee having any extra steps inserted regarding “running things by” someone else that can give the hard stop on a story from the Verizon team instead of just the TC team?

No – We operate our editorial team independent of our corporate overlords. If they start intervening, we’ll leave and start a new site.

FB/Twitter for reach, Instagram for marketing. Can you elaborate on Instagram’s value? What metrics do you care about there?

That’s the toughest part about Instagram. It’s a branding play…they really need to add viewability metrics into Instagram. I’m sure it’s coming soon. Here’s the thing though…Facebook owns it, and it’s bigger than Twitter. It’s not going anywhere. Audience growth should be your goal.

Another question related to the sources of social media traffic in TC: I can assume that the biggest one in terms of location is: USA, which ones are the next 3 countries that are coming to TC?

I don’t know right off the top of my head, but we’re growing like crazy in the UK and Europe.

What tool do you use for social posting/moderation?

Social Flow and Twitter and FB’s native tools.

What’s your work stack? What apps/websites do you use on a daily basis?

Social Flow, WordPress, Naytev, Simple Reach, Facebook Debugger, Facebook Analytics and Ads, Twitter Analytics and Ads, Omniture, and TechCrunch. There are some other tools/sites I’m playing around with, but the ones I just mentioned I always use.

What are some surprising channels you’re getting a ton of traffic from?

Google+…it just won’t die. We tried doing a ton of investment in it last year (longer posts, better tagging, etc.), but it didn’t pay off. We actually got the exact same amount of traffic when we automated it vs. when we spent an hour a day on it. I have no idea why anyone still uses Google+, but we still get traffic from it. It’s flatlined as far as traffic growth though.

Drink of choice at the office?

I love tea. Tea all day.

Hi, thanks for doing this! What do you think is the next big thing that most people are sleeping on right now?

If I knew, I’d go into venture capital.

Ha! Truth.

But for real..Biotech is CRAZY right now OR this

Also, VR is the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I used to be a gamer (until I got married), and OMFG. Oculus will blow your mind.

How will you find no-named startups? It’s kind of a pain that there’s no proper way to pitch.

You can always send a note to, or find a writer that fits your product. For example, Sarah Perez is our expert on apps. Josh Constine is a wizard on all things music tech and social media.

Do you use any tools to optimize your headline writing and/or headline testing? Or is it all manual?

The best tool out there is called Naytev. Sites like BuzzFeed have tech like this built into their product.

I’ve read plenty of articles by TC regarding office culture, etc., but I don’t think I’ve seen much about the actual TC office culture. What are the top 3 things you like about the TC office/general culture?

1) They cater food on Tuesdays and Thursdays 2) The office is dog friendly 3) I get to work with the writers I’ve been reading for years, and they LOVE what they write about.

We have writers all over the world though, so the biggest splash of TC culture is Disrupt SF. Everyone on our team is there, and it’s the coolest thing ever. It’s like a huge family, and everyone is super passionate about their job.

How would you finish this sequence: Yammer, Slack, …. (what product/kind of product do you think will be the next big thing in workplace communication)?

Slack is so awesome, it’s hard to imagine it being replaced…

What do you think about more startups trying to launch first in ProductHunt vs TC or other tech media? Do you think that is the best way for unknown startups that are not part of all the big VCs firms, YC, 500 Startups, etc.?

I can’t really speak to that. I do social media and audience dev. for TC. That’s probably a better question for our writers.

Do you have to differentiate between driving traffic that brings revenue, vs driving traffic? Or is all traffic good traffic in your world?

How would traffic not drive revenue (at least indirectly)?

haha I deal with that all the time in my world– since we’re selling a product some traffic doesn’t buy. Was interested if in the publishing world you differentiate between traffic that clicks on ads vs traffic that doesn’t…

Gotcha – but indirectly it sells, especially if you are using the traffic to retarget on FB.

Travis, any favorite books that you’d recommend?

I’m not a huge book person. I’m more of a newspaper/magazine person. I just read Ender’s Game, and that was pretty awesome. Currently reading “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson.I only read few books each year, but I read 40-50+ news articles per day.

What’s the most ridiculous attempt of a bribe/payoff you have come across while at TC?

Someone sent us a huge chocolate cake to cover them.

How big is “huge?” Did you end up covering them? ^Better question.

*Making notes to include delicious food when I ever build an app and want TC coverage* lol

One weird trick on how to get coverage on TC…

Haha – yes…but the person that covered them wasn’t even from the SF office. So we did, but it was just a coincidence. You can’t buy your way into TechCrunch.

Which social media applications do you use in your day-to-day? And off topic what kind of dog do you bring to the office?

See above – already answered that one. I just got a puppy named Chewie, but I can’t bring him to the office yet (still needs shots). Chewie (gif)

I may have missed this but any tricks to activating more people in your large community?

Honestly…respond to people. That’s what a community is all about.

How is Facebook comments working out? Was there a huge backlash from that? And how do you deal with spam comments?

Great question – Facebook comments are the worst (wonky, don’t load, look like something out of the 90’s), but everyone has FB so it’s a low barrier to get someone to comment. The tricky thing is when users want to be anonymous (i.e. you comment on a post about your startup and you want to be able to speak freely). We’re definitely looking into alternatives. I’d love to build a commenting system with Twitter or Flipboard. Right now, it’s the easiest one for people to use, so we’re sticking with it.

For spam comments…it’s tough but we manually ban people. Facebook has improved spam prevention a ton over the past year. It used to be way worse.It also blows my mind that sites are turning off commenting systems. WTF. No community.

Any other questions? I know we’re getting close to the end.

Would you be interested in doing an AMA on

Possibly – send me more info to my work email

Commenting as a whole has gone down though.Remember back in like 09-10 how it was all the rage?Now I feel like people are over it.However, a good thing to include in yournew system is follow up replies.

I’ll remember that. Reddit has a great setup too for comments. I like that setup.

I find the navigation to be a bit frustrating to be honest. It has potential but the UX can use some work.

I think commenting hasn’t gone down, it just moved to social platforms.

Yes, we want a commenting system that has the traction of Reddit, but looks like a Ferrari.If you sell it as a SAAS let me know.

Will do.

I’m off to write do my blog post: 12 Tips I learned from the head guy at techcrunch…

Any other last questions? Also, follow up questions on Twitter @travisbernard or work email, too (

I knew Travis would kick ass. Follow him on twitter.

Thanks again! Heading back to work now. Take care.

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