A venture capital firm recently invested $50 million dollars into BuzzFeed. That brings Buzzfeed’s valuation up to $850 million dollars in total, which is more than the Washington Post and half that of The Times.
By Tim Kitchen, Head Ninja at Exposure Ninja online marketing
BuzzFeed has grown from a viral lab with a penchant for cat videos to a publication with the ability to break serious news stories and hire Pulitzer prize winning journalists. The website once dismissed by its rivals as a ‘toy’ is now seeing its signature listicles (list-based articles) imitated everywhere.
BuzzFeed has produced the model for successfully navigating the digital marketplace, and the older publications are desperate to follow.
Content is King
As Bill Gates said back in ‘96, content is king. BuzzFeed does more than produce excellent content though, Buzzfeed produces content that is both engaging and sharable. Not only do shares ‘prove’ engagement as far as advertisers are concerned, but sharing is what enables content to go viral.
BuzzFeed have wisely used their profits to bring more talent to the company, which has helped them in their attempts to branch out into long form articles and investigative journalism.
Unsurprisingly, sharable content and social media go hand in hand. BuzzFeed gets a staggering amount of traffic through Facebook. Pinterest is the second most common way that they get people onto their site, and they also do well on YouTube, which attracts another cool two million viewers.
BuzzFeed understand that by using a wide array of media they can reach the widest possible market.
We’re all Individuals
BuzzFeed’s Editorial Director, Jack Shepherd, points out that a lot of their most widely shared articles appeal to the reader’s sense of identity. A quick search reveals that the word “you” appears on the BuzzFeed homepage much more frequently than on traditional news sites.
One of BuzzFeed’s most popular articles of all time is a quiz called “What State Do You Actually Belong In?” People are much more likely to share something that they can strongly identify with because it allows them to express their individual values and establish an emotional connection.
Another major advantage that quizzes like this have over the news is that they age much more gracefully. Nobody shares last year’s news items, but a quiz on which state you belong too can continue knocking around the internet accumulating Facebook likes for years.
BuzzFeed also appeals to identity through niche content, such as “67 Telltale Signs that you went to Boarding School” and “How to be a Pastel Goth.” Conventional wisdom told people looking to make it on the internet to find their niche. BuzzFeed instead found a way to get very different niches together in one place.
They can get away with this because they produce so much content. With hundreds of articles going up each day, they can afford to be more scattergun in their approach.
The Value of Talent
BuzzFeed has hired a small army of contributors to keep content output high. Its success proves that excellent writers and written content are still extremely valuable in the digital age when given the right platform.
BuzzFeed is one of a diminishing number of websites that still pays a number of its writers, and though there have been some controversies surrounding plagiarism and copyright infringement, in general the investment has paid off.
BuzzFeed does accept unpaid contributions from the community, though it has a focus on dedicated users who have an understanding of the BuzzFeed style and how to replicate it.
Sharability is better than accuracy. Marketers have known for decades that being seen can be much more important than being right. When newspapers were pretty much the only source of current factual information, they lived and died by their ability to report truthfully.
Now that accuracy is in fruitful supply, demand has lessened. Sometimes it is the interest of a publication to be a little bit less rigid with the facts. BuzzFeed provokes engagement from its readers by stating opinions as facts, or missing out some relevant piece of information.
Its readers may disagree, challenge, debate or fill in the gaps, but so long as they’re doing it on BuzzFeed, it can work out to the site’s advantage.
Follow the money
At the end of the day, BuzzFeed’s monetary success comes from advertising. BuzzFeed suggests there is no reason why advertisements shouldn’t be just as informative, engaging or humourous as original articles. Nearly all content is an advert for something, it just might not be immediately obvious to the viewer.
It could be Game of Thrones, cat food, or BuzzFeed itself, but If you go on their homepage, chance are you won’t even be able to see the ads. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.
BuzzFeed uses content marketing rather than traditional banner ads, claiming that its ads are effective for the same reason that its articles are sharable - they appeal to the viewer’s sense of individuality which allows them to make an emotional connection with a brand or product.
With most web pages, advertisers have reasonable doubt that the number of views doesn’t actually tally up with the number of reads. BuzzFeed’s true success has been restoring brands faith in advertising, and that’s where the money is coming from.
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