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A Buzzworthy Birthday: Buzzfeed Turns 14 Years Old

While we were spending November 1 wiping off tiger stripes and coming down from a raving sugar binge, grand quizmaster BuzzFeed was turning into a stroppy 14-year-old.

BuzzFeed’s ’Joy and Truth’ philosophy mashes personality quizzes (we’ll share their Top 5 quizzes tomorrow!) and good-dog virality right alongside hard-hitting news. It’s an unlikely and genius mix that has worked to make them a major media player, and fast. But like most teens, they’re going through an identity crisis as they hit their first awkward breakup and first heartache. This year alone, they’ve lost a major editor, furloughed their staff, and closed news offices (so heads up, there might be a little less truth going around).

However, despite major ad-deal losses, BuzzFeed reported record audiences during the pandemic, and they continue to position themselves for the “future of digital future.”

So, in lieu of candles, we’ve rounded up 8 content lessons to glean from the meme-generating, machine-learning wunderkind of digital media. (We’ll share the first 4 today and finish up tomorrow with a fun bonus!)

1️⃣ Humans love lists

Yes, lists provide a sense of logic and rationality (even if they’re illusions). Yes, our brains love it. Unsurprisingly, most media sites and publications feature blogs and listicles—and there are even theories about certain numbers being more effective than others.

2️⃣ Make shareable content

BuzzFeed succeeds largely because its content is so infinitely shareable. Indeed, most of BuzzFeed’s content lives out of the house on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook. If you want to emulate a tiny modicum of their success, make sure that your content is on the right social channels, and is easily shareable with the right icons and links. More importantly, make content that people actually want to share. There is a distinction between sharing content that the average consumer will like, versus just sharing your average content. Keep it fresh, and don’t be scared to add some personality.

3️⃣ Headlines matter

It’s not simply the body content of BuzzFeed’s posts that are worthy of attention. They’re also really good at writing headlines. Studying BuzzFeed is a headline training course for those paying attention. They’re click magnets, SEO-friendly, and incorporate multiple elements for success. But they also set up the content which is able to deliver on the promise. So when you experiment with headlines, remember to follow through with content that matches so that more people will share what they read.

4️⃣ We’re self-interested self-obsessed but we want to be a part of something bigger, too

There’s a reason why we all want to know which Disney princess we are on the inside… and also which Disney princess we are on the outside. And that reason is that we’re all a bit narcissistic and ultimately want to know/talk/think more about ourselves. But we also want to feel like we’re part of something bigger: a community. BuzzFeed lets us do both by providing us points of commonality to unite over while indulging our need to hold up the mirror.

Remember these? They’ve created content around a pain/connection point for a niche audience here. Can you do the same somehow?

5️⃣ We’re busy and time-deprived and bored

BuzzFeed is really good at taking the latest stories and publishing content at lightning-fast speed, in a more digestible format so that its audience gets the most recent information first. That’s gratifying for those who claim not to have time to read long-form articles. But they also gift us with a welter of sensational, distracting content that hits on positive emotions like a sense of fun, curiosity, and excitement. Can you create positive feelings of relatability around your content that keep your audience coming back?

6️⃣ Know your audience

BuzzFeed studies its audience through data and delivers what they want, not what they think their audience wants. Study your target audience, your competitors’ behaviors, and ask questions. Producing relevant conversations around your brand that ultimately cinch sales is easier when you know what to talk about.

7️⃣ Curate, change, and create

In the beginning, BuzzFeed employed no writers or editors, just an “algorithm to cull stories from around the web that were showing stirrings of virality.” Early on, the site launched an instant messaging client, BuzzBot, which sent users a link to popular content. Later, the site began spotlighting the most popular links that BuzzBot had found. Peretti hired curators to help describe and present the content that was popular around the web. BuzzFeed used that momentum to slingshot themselves into the space of the traditional news outlet they’d aimed to be, evolving with their customers’ needs without losing sight of their brand’s core.

8️⃣ Weird works

If you’ve ever looked at the content on BuzzFeed—like, really looked—you’ll notice that it’s odd. Written in Gen-Z speak and bedecked with bright-yellow buttons reading lol, wtf, and omg, it’s a stream-of-consciousness-style quirk. But that’s exactly why it works. So stop shrouding your ideas in layers of intellect and correctness. Scrub the boredom off of them, embrace the weird left-of-field position you can take, and people will notice it more than any vanilla version of… whatever it is you wanted to say.


Tarah Darge


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