Omar Raja runs House of Highlights, the massively popular and Bleacher Report owned Instagram account he founded in his dorm room at the University of Central Florida. In this week’s Agents of Change soundbite, Raja discusses how the channel grew to 10 million followers so quickly, why he doesn’t rely on analytics, and which athletes and celebrities are big fans of the brand.
Read or listen below to learn how House of Highlights became the biggest must-follow social media account for the connected fan.
There really wasn’t a video that took off. I think it was about consistency.
I was consistent for six months and then at that six-month point, I think we had 400,000 – 500,000 followers, and I’m like, “This is growing at an insane speed!”
I had done YouTube videos six, seven, eight years ago when I was like 14, and the growth on that was so slow. Then I start an Instagram page, and it has 500,000 followers in 6 months, and I’m like “This is getting insane.”
That’s around the time when celebrities started following the account, like Snoop Dogg. I remember calling my dad like, “Hey, do you know who Snoop Dogg is? He followed House of Highlights!”
Now we’ve got LeBron [James] liking reposts so it has gotten crazy. That 6-month point with the growth, likes, and engagement being so high where you’d put up a post, and it would get 5,000 comments, and everyone is tagging their friends and talking with one another, and we’re thinking, “This is becoming something really big.”
When I first started I wasn’t huge on analytics, a lot of it was guts and knowing this is a good piece of content, and I am just going to put it out there. Now sometimes you look at analytics in the sense of it’s better to post something at night than seen in the morning. But that’s it; I don’t look too much into it.
When I get a DM that I like, I watch it a few times. I take a break for 30 minutes, and then I watch it again to see if I still enjoy it. Because the one thing that happens sometimes is, you might watch something and at first think it’s great and then when you watch it again [you realize] nothing crazy happened. A lot of it is experience, but when I was going into it I had a few friends and [would ask] “Do you guys find this funny?” and if they found it funny, it’s something that was going to work. That was the way I started.
At this point, the audience has gotten so big, there are little changes here and there. When House of Highlights first started it had a lot to do with athletes squatting a lot of weight and people thought that was the most interesting thing, and now it has pivoted to being influencer-focused and funny. So now since it’s very comedy focused, the sensibility is a little different, but I’ve learned them over the years because if you do it every single day for four years now, you have to learn.
When I first started I wasn’t huge on analytics, a lot of it was guts and knowing this is a good piece of content
Omar Raja, Founder of House of Highlights
Right now [for me] it’s a bunch of traveling because [in the summer] there’s the [NBA] Draft, there’s the NBA Awards, but during the season you wake up at 9 AM, and you check 500 DM’s. That was one of the first things that House of Highlights did [differently] was encouraging fans to send in clips. We get 500 DM’s, and it takes two to three hours [to sift through]. Sometimes it’s just little messages asking for advice, and sometimes it’s people sending legit content that they worked on.
A good thing that we did was when someone submitted a clip that we liked, and we got permission and cleared it, we credited them for sending us that clip. So people were encouraged to send us clips because they would be able to tell their friends, “Hey, I’m on House of Highlights! Look, they tagged me in the post.”
So I start the day at 9 AM, go through two to three hours of DM’s, finish with that and then you do the whole clearances, and after the 500 DM’s you probably end up with two or three clips that you like.
That can be frustrating when you’re going through so much material, and you’re not sure if it’s worth it at the end. But eventually, you get the two or three clips that you like.
Since we’re invitation only with House of Highlights, we have a lot of opportunities to work with brands. So we spend the next three to four hours working with brands, and coming up with ideas for making content for House of Highlights because the content for HoH is different.
When I was with Ben Simmons at the NBA Awards show I didn’t ask him anything about Donovan Mitchell, I asked him why he thinks PUBG is a better video game than Fortnite. Because that is a conversation that relates to 12-24 year-olds; that’s what we’re debating when we’re at home. And after that, the games start, and it’s 7 PM to 1 AM, and you repeat that for every single day for almost four years now.
[When I launched], I didn’t get any pushback at all, but I stayed away from the NFL and the MLB for that reason. It was interesting during that time too, when people on Twitter would be posting those clips, there would be cease and desists sent. I knew from that aspect when some of these media brands were getting taken down off Twitter, that I should probably stay away from those leagues.
What has been interesting, now that we’re in 2018 and House of Highlights has gotten so big, those same leagues that were sending cease and desist orders are now DMing us like, “Hey, if there’s any clip that you guys want to post on House of Highlights for free, let us know.”
I think that’s been the most surprising pivot. Two years ago they probably would have shut me down if I posted their content. Now, they’re just asking, they’re begging kind of, “Can we post content? We would love if you posted our content.”
Omar Raja spoke during SportsFronts, a digital content showcase of the leading media companies, publishers, and platforms serving the connected fan. Learn more here.