The other day I did something I have never done before—I visited the BuzzFeed website. Crazy, right? I’ve read their LOL, WTF, and occasional news articles a thousand times, but I’ve always read them off of their site, usually on Twitter or Facebook. But that’s the point—and one of the secrets of success behind the fastest growing site on the Internet. My visit, combined with a recent presentation from BuzzFeed founder, Jonah Peretti, brought to life six “aha” content tips from which all content marketers can learn.
6 BuzzFeed Content Tips for Marketers
BuzzFeed Content Tip 1: No click-bait headlines
Sure, BuzzFeed headlines get your attention and usually they’re straightforward. “23 Things Only Eurasians Understand” gets the point across but also has that high-volume sharing probability with the readers that relate.
“We don’t make money on click bait, and it’s deceptive,” Peretti says. BuzzFeed cares more that you see a sampling of their best content —such as the funny #5 on one of their quizzes that you can share with a click or the most compelling paragraph of an article.
“We optimize articles to share, not to click through and lead to nowhere,” he said. That doesn’t mean that BuzzFeed doesn’t care about metrics though, far from it.
BuzzFeed Content Tip 2: Use sharing metrics to connect the dots
Clearly, BuzzFeed is focused on getting its content spread across multiple platforms and people, and sharing data is their most important metric. But, it’s not that simple.
“The sharing nature of BuzzFeed drives growth, and we think it’s the quality signal embedded in sharing, not to mention your own reputation when you do this. It’s a nice combination of quality and growth,” Peretti says.
That’s why BuzzFeed is so open to sharing its content with other platforms. Make no mistake, though—the more open the network is with data, the more likely it is that you’ll find BuzzFeed’s content. Peretti cited Facebook, which is very open, versus Netflix, which doesn’t offer up data.
BuzzFeed Content Tip 3: Let the magic happen with the human connection
Peretti says if you zoom out, social content is all about how people use it.
For example, take one of their many viral articles, “Weird Things Every Couple Fights About.” For Peretti, “it’s about the conversations it spurs, the joking comments online, the recognition of yourself.”
Another example he pointed out: “Sharing a recipe from BuzzFeed, seeing the photos of the recipe on Instagram with comments on how it tastes. These all lead to that human interaction.”
He points out that social is exploding because content is going to people where they are, versus the other way around. “The structure of media, now with social, mobile, and video content for all these different target groups, is making for interconnected and diverse audiences. It finds them.”
BuzzFeed Content Tip 4: Content and ads should be separate but equal
The reason BuzzFeed is a sponsored content trailblazer is because Peretti hated banner ads and refused to use them on the site.
For example, he sold HBO on the idea that writing sharable, compelling Game of Thrones quizzes is a far better use of their money than a “Watch HBO” ad. “We also realize the interdependencies of content and ads, and make better ads because of it,” he says.
Even so, just last week BuzzFeed adopted strict guidelines on the separation of church and state, especially with its journalistic ethics in hot water recently in its growing news division. Admittedly, Peretti said BuzzFeed has a reputation for most as pure entertainment versus covering hard news but aims to change that perception over time. “Working with reporters is the most rewarding part of my job,” he said.
BuzzFeed Content Tip 5: Don’t worry about the competition and imitators (at not least publicly)
“Copycats don’t scare us. They might get surges, but they can’t game the system if they’re doing click-bait, as an example, and people will realize this.”
Legacy media companies, like Time or Newsweek, try to co-opt some of the success of the BuzzFeed formula. However, they carry a lot of baggage from their print days and have a difficult time adopting nimble media publishing models like BuzzFeed.
Peretti acknowledges and admires companies like Snapchat that are experimenting with content, such as its new Discover platform, which seamlessly pulls in various media content to the Snapchat app. Asked if it’s a threat to BuzzFeed, however, he says that he welcomes “experiments.”
BuzzFeed Content Tip 6: Be a living lab
Peretti is adamant that BuzzFeed carry on as a place for trying new content formats, seeing what works, and building on it if it’s a hit with audiences. “We do what’s best for the consumer, not always business logic,” he says. Unlike technology or product companies, BuzzFeed can focus solely on content, organizing its employees in small groups, and working with a high degree of autonomy.
He admits it’s getting more difficult due to BuzzFeed’s increasing size. The cost of growing larger means that other groups create similar content. Does he care? “I’d rather have freedom at the cost of redundancy than consistency at the cost of freedom.” With all the sprouting groups at BuzzFeed, from their news division to new motion pictures group, he wants to stay focused on embracing innovation, and simply let people build things. “Media has more opportunities than ever,” he said.
For a company that’s valued at almost a $1B, he’s not kidding.