‘We started with Units of Funny’ – Will Hayward’s History of BuzzFeed at The Social Intelligence Summit

Posted by: in Advertising, Analytics, Communication, Communication Strategy, Content, executive insights, Innovation, Insights, Integrated Communications, Integrated Marketing, Media & Engagement, Social Commerce, Social Media Insights & Trends, Thought Leadership, w20 group, W2O Group on October 8, 2014

Will Hayward started by emphasizing that BuzzFeed began as a media company built for the era of social media, with one of its key differentiators being that everything about BuzzFeed is about sharing.

All its content is created with sharing in mind; content that that people want to pass on to their friends, whether that be through word of mouth, email, Facebook or any other social network. In fact, says Hayward, 75% of the sites traffic referrals come from some form of social sharing.

The folks at BuzzFeed identified their target market by visualizing the everyday employee bored at work – someone eager for something entertaining to pass the time. With this audience in mind, they started gathering content that was easy to consume, entertaining, and highly shareable. Real stories and real people behind the content were key drivers of the “shareability”.  Their evolution came when they started to consider that this group wasn’t just interested in funny content, but also craved traditional news (i.e. NYT and BBC), and that they were willing to share this type of content as just as widely. Recognizing the opportunity, BuzzFeed changed course and began creating additional news content, but with an edge – Will calls it ‘political satire for the social generation’. Now the site is covering original news reporting from around the world.

In today’s web, content distribution is dominated by social. Hayward noted, “It is essential to understand why people share things. For example, many people use their social feeds to show who they are, or perhaps more accurately, who they want to be.” Bringing them content that allows them to express this helps capitalize on the insight and drive engagement.

Two recent reports by BBC (Stringer Report) and the New York Times (Innovation Report) conclude that the companies are serving as destinations rather than pushing their content to consumers. They had not done enough to adapt the reality that people are more interested in what their peers are saying. Hayward noted, “People are checking their social feeds to see what their friends are talking about instead of going directly to these destinations. It is the job of a media company today to create content that is good enough that consumers share it with their friends, wherever that might be.”

In addition to its socially driven content, BuzzFeed is focusing on a new approach to digital advertising. Great advertising should be built for the platform it is meant for, and should fit to what the audience is expecting from that platform. So how did BuzzFeed adjust its advertising to accommodate this trend in people prioritizing their social feeds? Hayward pointed to BuzzFeed’s work with Fosters, noting that instead of using a banner ad that consumers have no real interest in, they developed a post with funny pictures called “The Most Australian Things that Ever Happened”. The result?  Entertaining, shareable content that creates an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer while enhancing the perception of the brand.

Hayward’s Takeaways?

  • The web is now social.
  • Think about why people would share.
  • Digital advertising can be awesome!

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