BuzzFeed is one of the biggest success stories in media today. Just a few years after its launch, the site has generated over $100 million in revenue in 2014 and is already profitable. It’s impossible not to talk to anyone under the age of 35 today who doesn’t know what BuzzFeed is.
So what is behind BuzzFeed’s phenomenal success? The site has pioneered the use of listicles, but its triumph can be attributed to more than that. The site’s growing web traffic is a result of its focus on interesting content, social-media optimization and smart use of technology.
Effective content marketing is a lot about acting as a brand publisher, so marketers can learn a lot from the BuzzFeed approach. Here are 4 lessons from this media powerhouse:
- Optimize your content for Pinterest.
In a recent WIRED article, BuzzFeed revealed some of its content marketing secrets. Research, as it turns out, is a big part of optimization at BuzzFeed.
One surprising insight that the company found is that women shared more than men. With this finding in mind, the company aimed to improve its strategy on Pinterest, a social network that is popular with women. To encourage Pinterest sharing, the site added Pinterest button to its site. The site’s Life category was later launched to appeal to the kind of stories that resonate with Pinterest users.
BuzzFeed also found that Pinterest users differ from other social media users:
BuzzFeed realized that readers who come to the site from Pinterest aren’t looking to share on other social sites. So they quit showing Twitter share buttons to people who came to its stories from Pinterest. And as BuzzFeed began to understand how people on Pinterest behaved, it started to plan its publishing schedule accordingly. For example, because stories have a slow burn time on Pinterest, BuzzFeed began publishing Halloween-themed content in September so people had plenty of time to organize it into a holiday ideas folder.
The result of all of these optimization projects? More referral from Pinterest, which is now BuzzFeed’s second-largest social referrer, just trailing Facebook.
The lesson here: Knowing your audience is the first step to social media optimization. Once you have that information, you have the insight you need to make it easier for people to share your content.
- Go super niche.
Many marketers who would like to go viral tend to go after the broadest target audience as possible. But that’s the wrong approach to going viral.
Counterintuitively, you need to appeal to a very specific group to enable sharing. That’s because people in smaller groups are more likely to pass along something that they think might be interesting to their niche networks.
“Traditionally you’d think focusing on a single-digit percentage of the population would result in something not being popular,” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti says. “But actually it has the opposite effect. When media can spread through social networks, close personal connections are the distribution mechanism.”
As content marketers, we need to be clear on who exactly we’re trying to reach. It can’t be everyone.
- Write a captivating AND straightforward headline.
BuzzFeed is the master of writing enticing headlines. In fact, the media company—which, as the WIRED article notes, also acts as tech company—has proprietary tools that help it craft the best headlines possible.
Its headline optimizer helps the company “take a few different headline and thumbnail image configurations and test them in real time as a story goes live, then spit back the one that is most effective.”
BuzzFeed is so obsessed with headlines that its tool does additional testing after the story has been published. The algorithm looks at early signs of whether the story is going to be a hit—the editors can then decide whether they should put more social media promotion for the story or whether they should just let it die. The article explains, “BuzzFeed measures all this with something it calls social lift—an index of how a story spreads on social media, a quantification of its virality.”
Writing a compelling headline isn’t about click-bait, however. BuzzFeed’s approach to headline-writing is a lot more straightforward than Upworthy’s. “It isn’t trying to trick anyone. It’s trying to captivate,” WIRED explains.
Your team may not have the budget to develop a headline optimization tool like BuzzFeed’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with your headlines. Write at least 5 headlines before selecting which one to use. Once your content is published, consider testing different variations of headlines on social media to see which one gets the highest click through rates and engagement. Consider changing your headlines if you find a better one.
- Upload Facebook videos.
BuzzFeed is an early adopter in using Facebook’s native video platform. And it’s seeing great results.
According to Mashable, BuzzFeed has pretty much abandoned YouTube in favor of Facebook for its videos. The result: a noticeable increase in fans.
BuzzFeed is so invested in Facebook videos that it even has a dedicated Facebook page for them. Many of BuzzFeed’s Facebook videos have almost 1 million hits and thousands of shares.
Facebook videos work for BuzzFeed for several reasons. The auto-play feature, while annoying to some, tempts people to watch. Auto-play only works on Facebook for videos directly uploaded to the site; it doesn’t work for YouTube or any other types of video services. Secondly, since videos are naturally engaging, they bolster BuzzFeed’s reach. Video views are now part of Facebook’s algorithm, so all it takes is for a follower to watch a video or two for your page to appear more frequently on that person’s newsfeed.
If you already create videos as part of your content marketing strategy, experiment uploading it directly to Facebook. Videos are no longer just YouTube’s domain. From my personal experience, Facebook videos tend to have a significantly higher organic reach than links, photos or status updates, so it should be part of your Facebook marketing tactics moving forward.
BuzzFeed’s success in producing content that are consistently hits on social media is due to a deep understanding of the modern web audience. The company uses technology to enhance its content. Finally, it embraces new formats (such as Facebook vides) to further widen its reach.
Are you a fan of BuzzFeed? What other content marketing lessons can we learn from it? Leave a comment to let me know!