High-tech tree hugging: Meet Mother Nature Network’s data-savvy president

Matt Crenshaw wants to make people feel good, not guilty about environmentalism

If, as Bill Gates famously declared of the Internet, content is king, then people like Matt Crenshaw are its field marshals. The president of Atlanta-based digital news outlet Mother Nature Network spends his time parsing web traffic trends, search engine performance, and social media engagement to help MNN.com and its sister site, TreeHugger.com, capture a combined 10 million unique visitors per month.

“We think of content as being an art and a science,” says the thirty-seven-year-old former vice president of Discovery Communications, who joined MNN last summer. Knowing that users often check Facebook upon waking, for example, inspired MNN to post a daily photo of a sunrise—“just to sort of pause and connect people with something that’s not information overload, but captures a feeling,” Crenshaw says.

Launched in 2009 by longtime ad man Joel Babbit and conservationist (and Rolling Stones keyboardist) Chuck Leavell, MNN revolves around the notion that environmental content should make people feel good, not guilty. Articles—a mix of lifestyle tips (“how to clean an oven naturally”) and science-geeky spotlights on natural phenomena—are tailor-made for Google searches and Facebook shares.

Atlanta native Crenshaw, who ran digital marketing and analytics for Discovery, sees no disconnect between high-tech strategizing and an earth-friendly ethos. “One of the biggest misconceptions people have about MNN is, ‘You guys must be all hippie-crunchy, wearing Toms shoes and everything.’ And certainly some of us are, but it’s about taking a mainstream audience and nudging it toward this green lifestyle. I look at it almost like a Whole Foods for content.”

Read more: Our extended interview with Matt Crenshaw

This article originally appeared in our April 2014 issue.