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Content Marketing the Buzzfeed Way

Jonah Peretti SXSW

Thoughts on content marketing and content distribution from one of the best: Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti

At SXSWi 2015, Jonah Peretti returned to the conference following a two-year absence. He discussed how Buzzfeed has changed in response to changes in the marketplace, and offered advice that any marketer can use to create, distribute and measure their content. He also established a few ground rules that any content creator can use to do better business.

Sharing is Meaningful

sharing content“Sharing is Buzzfeed’s most important metric,” Peretti said. Buzzfeed’s philosophy is that content is about sharing experiences and feeling closer to friends. Therefore, content that is not shared – even well written content – is not worthwhile.

For Buzzfeed, sharable content takes many forms. Following the Sandy Hook killings, one of Buzzfeed’s most shared pieces was 26 Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year, showing that silly content is not the only thing that gets shared.

“Sometimes the emotion of content is often more important than the content itself,” Peretti noted. “If you know a friend is having a hard time, sending them an article like 13 Simple Steps to Get You Through a Rough Day can mean a lot.”

That doesn’t mean all content has to tug at the heart strings. Content can be informational and get shares. Buzzfeed’s Clean Eating Challenge offered two weeks of healthy recipes, but really exploded when participants started sharing pictures of their own Clean Eating Challenge meals on social media. This piece combined information with inspiration and created a sharing sensation.

 Don’t Worry About the Platform

“It doesn’t matter where content lives,” Peretti said. “The old internet model is build on banner advertising, where we spend huge amounts of money pushing out links back to our own site. What if we pushed out content instead?”

This Barack Obama video posted below was one example. This was posted exclusively to Facebook where it garnered 50 million views.

“Are we getting better based on the data we got back from this video?” he asked. “I the answer is yes, we don’t really care if you go to Buzzfeed. Stop trying to herd consumers where they don’t want to go.”

 Learn From Everything You Do

learn from everything you doSo, as long as they can extract data, Peretti feels that the platform for our content is unimportant. This is why Buzzfeed avoids legacy media like television and newspapers.

“Legacy platforms don’t give you data,” he said. “Even if there is more money in those mediums, we want to measure sharing and engagement. Learn what works and make your process better.”

However, he cautions, not all metrics are equal.

“How do you measure the value of a video view?” he asked. “A YouTube video might be on autoplay with no sound. A Vine might loop 50 times.”

Peretti advises creating an analytics dashboard that adds different values and weights to each metric. Buzzfeed thinks of content as a “cascade of sharing” and uses these dashboards to follow content as it travels across different channels.

Become More Distributed

learn from everything you doWhile the Obama video got 50 million views on Facebook, Buzzfeed was also busy creating GIFs and Vines from it. Pushing this content out to native players allows the content to live longer and lets users consume the content on their own terms. Any platform will work as long as it is measurable.

If the content belongs on an app, let it live on an app. Same for content that belongs on Facebook, YouTube, websites or Twitter. Don’t try to force everything into your site; trust that spreading good content across the web will bring business back to you.

Build a Better Business

We all want to build a better business. Peretti sees the path to improvement in spotting opportunities for collaboration with other brands. Buzzfeed does some of their best work as a partner with other brands. Some examples include:

 Dear Kitten – a collaboration with Friskies

Could Your Favorite City Be in the Next Monopoly Game – a collaboration with Hasbro

What Kind of Thinker are You – a collaboration with GE

white dress blue dress
Buzzfeed translated articles about this dress into five languages, scaling globally.

To follow Buzzfeed’s example, look for opportunities to reach out to and work with other brands. What content marketing ideas do you have that might lead to a great cross-promotional piece?

Another of Peretti’s suggestions for building a  better business is to scale your content globally, noting, “Buzzfeed has 90 million monthly non-US users. It pays to think about other cultures.”

He cites the example of the white dress/blue dress phenomenon in early 2015. Buzzfeed’s initial post asking users to identify the actual color of the dress received millions of votes. Peretti attributes that massive turnout to the fact that Buzzfeed posted versions of the article in five different languages.

How You Can Improve Your Content Marketing 

Nothing Peretti is saying is rocket science, but it does take commitment and conviction. You have to be brave enough to step out of your comfort zone – to venture into new partnerships, new types of content and to seek new types of audiences. It requires measurement, and you may not always get the results you want, but you will better understand your audience, create better content and do better business.

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