At BuzzFeed, 75 per cent of its monthly unique visitors come from social and it relies on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as its main referrers. For the branded content pioneers, distribution is as equally important as the content, and BuzzFeed’s famed branded posts contain a mixture of key elements that the publisher has identified in the last couple of years, as revealed by advertising VP Will Hayward and creative director Philip Byrne at The Drum Live.
The UK delivers around 13 million of BuzzFeed’s 130 million global unique users – a figure which has tripled in the last year – and half of all BuzzFeed traffic now comes from mobile. The site thrives on the shareability of its content, whether online print or online video, and the new media kid on the block towers above many of its traditional rivals.
According to creative director Byrne, branded posts require a formula of elements in them to keep the content genuinely interesting for readers but to go the step further and make it something they attach to their social channels and actively promote.
“Nostalgia is a huge driver,” he says. “As everyone knows, there are dozens and dozens of nostalgia pages on Facebook – I remember the 90s or I remember the 80s.
“Nostalgia is like giving people a sort of perspective on their own past through sharing; things that reflect the person you are and the person you want to be seen to be by your friends. It’s part of the story you’re telling about yourself through your social presence.
“To my mind that is the main driver behind the phenomenon of BuzzFeed’s quizzes, which are very popular at the moment. They tell you something about yourself, even if it’s something negative, in a light hearted sort of way.”
Humour is another key factor in BuzzFeed’s branded posts, something also connected to identity, Byrne says, as it is the “human factor, tugging on the heartstrings”, such as the widely shared images of Christians in Chicago who turned out to support a gay pride event.
“Things that really tug at the heartstrings resonate with that inner decency in people,” he says, though at the same time admitting it’s a factor less popular with the “slightly resistant” UK audience.
Watch BuzzFeed's Will Hayward discuss his tips for branded content below.
Finally, pulling in genuinely interesting information to posts that users wouldn’t have known otherwise is considered key in shareable posts, as demonstrated by a list of 72 facts to highlight the problem of elephant poaching.
“Informing people, giving them knowledge they didn’t have previously, is very important,” he says. “The elephants piece was quite a large, chunky piece of content, but it’s actually compelling because it gives you a very clear purpose at the top; it tells you exactly what you’re going to get – 72 facts. That’s why numbered lists are so important, people want a sense of finiteness to what they’re getting.”
Byrne cites a light-hearted branded content ad for Volkswagen as a show of best practice in content marketing.
“‘What’s your inner dog breed?’ for Volkswagen is a good example of branded content,” he says. “It’s lightly branded, gives clear value to the person and says something about identity.”
He adds: “BuzzFeed branded quizzes have a 96 per cent completion rate – they tell you something about yourself, your identity, the piece of social collateral is very clear. They can be cute, can be funny, can be visually arresting, but above all are delivering a message from a brand that isn’t offensive. You can see this in action when people are sharing it.”
Byrne estimates that in traditional media, publishers spent 95 per cent of their time thinking about what they wanted to say and five per cent on how and where to say it. But in the “dramatically changed landscape”, Byrne said, BuzzFeed now spends 50 per cent of its time on content and 50 per cent is spent on thinking about how to make it shareable to guarantee social distribution.
Broadly though, according to VP of advertising Will Hayward, not enough attention is paid to how branded content is distributed in the wider industry, and media agencies in particular have been slow to respond.
“You can do great things online and no one will see them,” he says. “You could do the best stand-up routine in the world and no one will see it. Media companies today need to work harder to deliver value for advertisers; part of that is creating content and part of that is distribution.
“I believe very strongly that media companies today aren’t working hard enough for advertisers.”
Hayward adds that BuzzFeed would continue to invest heavily both editorially and commercially in video as the popularity of branded video content soared. The publisher currently counts in excess of 75m monthly video views on YouTube – a number which has increased ten-fold in the last year – and more than three million YouTube subscribers. Half of video views now come from mobile.
This article was first published in The Drum Live issue on 23 July.