Sara Critchfield

Online, content that’s loud gets seen—to the detriment of important issues.

Founding Editorial Director of Upworthy

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Sara Critchfield | Founding Editorial Director of Upworthy
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Sara Critchfield is the former Editorial Director of Upworthy—“the fastest-growing media company of all time” (Fast Company). She believes that stories focusing on social issues can be just as viral as any cat video—as long as you market them correctly, using data and emotion to direct decisions. Funny and practical, she speaks on digital marketing and the power of human algorithms. 

Critchfield is the Founding Editorial Director of Upworthy, the massively popular (and much-copied) website that curates highly sharable, social-issue driven content that flows organically into our online lives. During her tenure, she helped set the template to draw attention to important social issues (like racial profiling, body image, and child poverty) by making the stories highly shareable. Her contrarian theories have shifted the way companies think about reaching users, and have proven that people are just as hungry to consume content about meaningful issues as they are about celebrity gossip—as long as you market the content correctly. Critchfield’s approach to making good content go viral helped make Upworthy the internet juggernaut it is today.


“With people like Sara [Critchfield] leading the way, we can all have hope that we will be able to change technology for the better before it changes us for the worse.”

— Andrew Rasiej, Founder, Personal Democracy Media

Sara Critchfield has also worked at and co-founded an intellectual property firm. She has been a long-time advocate, organizer, and communicator for anti-poverty efforts in Washington DC and Central America. As a keynote speaker, she has spoken at the White House National Conference on Mental Health, Personal Democracy Forum, SXSW, News Foo, and Netroots Nation, and her work has been studied by and featured on PBS, Business Insider, the Nieman Journalism Lab, and Fast Company.    

Speech Topics

Marketing & Consumer Behavior
You’re Probably Doing It Wrong Upworthy’s Gotta-Know Factors for Making Content Viral

Did you know that getting a piece of content to “go viral” does not simply equate to getting lots of page views? Most people don't know the true definition of virality, or how to recognize it, measure it, or improve it. In this talk, Sara Critchfield explains the three main components of virality—shareability, spread, and clickability—and how to optimize and measure them. She provides hands-on knowledge that can be directly and immediately applied to your marketing strategy. Whatever your business goals are—to drive sales, increase brand awareness, grow your social following—viral content can be a key component to delivering results. An accessible, engaging speaker, Critchfield gives audiences the tools to ensure the content they’re creating will go viral in the right way.

The Human Algorithm Why Social Media Optimization Is More Powerful Than Search Engine Optimization

Social media has surpassed search engines as the largest discovery source for news and information. That means SMO (social media optimization)—rather than SEO (search engine optimization)—will make or break your marketing strategy over the next few years. In this talk, Sara Critchfield explains how Upworthy pioneered a way to get traffic from social platforms that is just as predictable and stable as search engine-based traffic, by investing in human pattern discovery. Content creators and marketers need to know how to appeal to the people who have the power to hit the “share” button. This customizable keynote breaks down this complex methodology and explains how to generate exponentially more traffic and conversions than an SEO strategy could ever provide alone. And, Critchfield dives into the practical how-to: effective social media marketing techniques; achieving virality; and emotion-driven decision making that balances big data. This talk is an absolute must-hear for any company trying to get ahead of stagnant digital marketing strategies and make real inroads online.

Divergent Thinking How to Ask and Answer Questions That Shape the Future

Drawing on her work at Upworthy, Sara Critchfield lays out how switching from tactical questions (how do I make this go viral?) to questions that solve humanity’s most pressing problems (what’s worthy of going viral?) will change the face of the news. The truth is that no media organization can “make” something viral without the audience’s participation! In this talk, specifically geared toward college audiences, she shares her insights on virality, the future of media, and finding a meaningful career path. Why does important stuff get buried on the web? Why is it so hard to market good content? And how can you solve problems and make a difference in any organization? It’s all about divergent thinking, she says—a concept that is applicable to students entering any field. You have to ask bigger, better, and different questions than everyone else in your industry—then you have to figure out how to answer those questions. Critchfield equips students with the tools they need to ask, and answer, the questions that will lead them to a valuable and successful career.