Last week saw the official launch of social news behemoth BuzzFeed here in Australia.
In typically BuzzFeed style, they celebrated their launch with headlines such as “17 Kangaroos That Can Kick Your Butt“ and by giving out bags and badges plastered with equally tongue-in-cheek Aussie catchphrases and clichés.
But you don’t build a business that now reaches over 150 million people just by publishing bizarre lists, so let’s have a look and see what brands can learn from BuzzFeed’s success.
1. Forget about the platform, focus on the content. Although platform wars are a real issue, BuzzFeed has simply focused on creating content that people will want to share. At the launch event, Chief Revenue Officer Andy Wiedlin mentioned that Facebook now drives more traffic than Google for them. In many ways, this shouldn’t be a surprise — and it is probably a sign of things to come for content-driven brands.
2. Make it global, make it local. BuzzFeed’s success has been built on content that resonates across national boundaries. I mean, who can’t connect emotionally with “26 Reasons Kids Are Pretty Much Just Tiny Drunk Adults“? Even though they have benefited massively from the global languages of memes and celebrities, they also recognise that to truly connect, you need to understand local issues and idiosyncrasies. The article on how the Australian national broadcaster should respond to criticism that it isn’t patriotic, is a brilliant example of that (which will likely mean nothing to anyone who doesn’t live down under).
3. Not everything’s a joke. BuzzFeed has undoubtedly built its popularity and reputation on a certain snarky humour, but it has also realised that there are other ways to make a point. Articles about the housing shortage in London or shark cull in Western Australia show that they understand people have more than one emotion. Brands, that often act as if social media is only fit for kitten photos and jokes, could learn from this.
4. People live in culture, not categories. BuzzFeed says they don’t have an algorithm that tells them what to write, rather their journalists “live in the internet.” Although not every brand can afford to employ people who spend most of their lives watching GIFs, it does highlight that brands will do better when they enable people to relate to their brand. Most of the best Super Bowl ads were ones which associated the products to moments in time or cultural trends, which is exactly what BuzzFeed does.
5. Ads don’t have to shout. BuzzFeed has built its business without running banners, leader-boards or any of the standard formats that most sites rely on to provide their revenue. Rather, they were early adopters of native advertising — that is, promotional content that mirrors the form and function of the content that surrounds it. So, Virgin Mobile shares embarrassing texts, Spotify highlights their connection to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and Cottonelle can, well… they can talk about bums. This tactic of making ads from stories that people will want to share is probably the most important lesson for brands.
6. Find a voice and stick with it. BuzzFeed’s articles may range from semi-serious to utterly ridiculous, but their tone of voice is almost entirely consistent — which is pretty impressive when you realise that they have hundreds of writers. Brands often struggle with tone, perhaps worried at causing offense by having an opinion or otherwise standing out from the crowd. Whilst the “who won the Grammys/Super Bowl/insert event here” coverage has gotten out of hand, most brands could learn a thing or two from Arby’s very simple tweet which was, importantly, tone perfect.
7. Not everything has to be a list. BuzzFeed may end up doing more for long-form writing than more high-brow sites like Medium or svbtle. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to write long-form, either. After all, as a past master of the list once said:If you aren’t in the market for a product you are unlikely to read an advertisement for it, no matter how long or short the copy. But real prospects are hungry for information. (David Ogilvy)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.