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The 6 most important things content marketers can learn from Buzzfeed

November 21st, 2013

buzzfeed croppedThis morning a friend Facebook’d me a link to a Buzzfeed ‘listicle’ entitled ‘Here’s What Happens When Your Friends Start Having Babies’. This is relevant to me in that a lot of my friends have started having babies. And posting them all over my Facebook news feed. And I moan about it a lot.

However, after scrolling my way through the article, as per usual I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave the site. Instead I clicked through to ‘9 Underground Female Rappers You Need to Know About’, ‘The 8 Most Important Moments from The X Factor ‘Big Band Week’ and ‘17 reasons you should grow a beard this instant’. This is despite the fact that I have little to no interest in rap music or the X Factor, and I probably couldn’t grow facial hair even if I tried really hard.

Sadly, this Buzzfeed binge, during which I whiled away a thankless hour staring at gifs and reading pointless articles about Jennifer Lawrence and the nineties, is something of a daily occurrence for me – as well as many, many other people.

So, what is it that makes these Buzzfeed posts so annoyingly compelling? And how can we, as content marketers, use these techniques to make our articles more readable and shareable?

1. The internet has turned us all into children with next to no attention span

List-form content is your new best friend. Lists make the reader’s job easy – they are scannable and most importantly, hugely shareable. Recent research from Mobiles Republic found that people are now ‘news snacking’ – aka checking the news more frequently, typically from mobile devices. Listicles are ideal for this type of news consumption, and pander to the content needs of ‘digital natives’ – renowned for their short attention spans. More traditional writers don’t always love listicles – you’ll find them hanging around the Twittersphere longing for the “good old days” when people could cope with long-form content – in 140 characters or less of course!

And if you’re one of these people who gets 200 words in and forgets what they’re doing, by the way, you might as well stop reading here because this isn’t one of those short, easily digestible lists – don’t let the gifs fool you!

Buzzfeed’s lists tend to revolve around pop culture and being a twenty-something, however, so can the same formula work for a serious business client? In short – yes, this type of content can be adapted for most audiences. A study investigating the impact of Motorola’s partnership with Buzzfeed, in which it focused on the longer battery life of its Droid RAZR MA XX HD handset, revealed that consumers exposed to this type of content were two times more likely to associate the phone with a longer life. What’s more, people who saw the content through social sharing were three times more likely to make this connection.

Still with me all you digital natives? Let’s crack on then…

2. Work out what your target demographic wants

There is no denying that Buzzfeed knows its core audience inside out – twenty-something, young professional, female, university educated, part of the doomed ‘generation rent’. They love cats, pinot grigio and Zooey Deschanel and really hate questions about why they’re still single. Search Google for ‘Buzzfeed twentysomething’ and you’ll be faced with endless lists of why it’s okay to hate clubbing and drink alone on weeknights ‘as told by New Girl gifs’.

These articles affirm the ideology of Buzzfeed’s target demographic – people read them because they’re comforting and show that other people feel the same way they do.

Knowing who you’re talking to is the cardinal rule of content strategy. A B2B shipping business audience, for example, is unlikely to engage with a Buzzfeed-style article like ‘Why the Titanic is your spirit animal’, but something along the lines of ‘The 5 most important things to happen in the shipping industry in the past year’ could go down a treat.

3. COMMAND ATTENTION!!!!!

Once you know who you’re talking to – speak directly to them. Buzzfeed addresses the people it’s talking to directly in its headlines – see: ‘15 Things Every Barista Knows to be True‘, ’52 Things ’00s Teen Girls Know to be True’, ’22 Things Journalists Know to be True’. If you are or have ever been a barista, ‘00s teen girl or journalist, just try to resist clicking on one of those links!

Granted, the site plays it fast and loose with the literal meaning of ‘things known to be true’ and ‘the most important things’ – but there’s no denying this strategy is attention-grabbing and ups click-throughs.

4. Check your analytics

These days, you need readers to love and share your content. Not only is the number of shares indicative of the quality of a post, but Google also takes this into account when deciding how to rank content. It is believed the search engine’s algorithm looks at both the number of people who come to a site via social media as well as how many share content once on the site.

Buzzfeed has this down – articles that generate the most social ‘buzz’ rank highly on its home page. This means that upon clicking through to the site, you’re automatically presented with the most popular posts. Those that have been deemed good enough to be shared by others are likely to be the ones you’re going to enjoy most and share too.

By checking the social performance of various articles you’ve posted, you can get a really good understanding of what is going down well with your target audience, and then it’s a case of avoiding under-performing topics and ‘more of the same please’.

5. Don’t be boring if you can help it

Some companies will demand that you produce content very closely related to their products while also generating plenty of traffic. In some cases – particularly if their field of business is a rather dry one – this is simply impossible. In many of these cases it is advisable to push for a content strategy where you’ve got a bit more freedom to experiment with what works.

A client that sells cement mixers, for example, may request something along the lines of ‘cement mixer news’ – which is obviously the sort of content that gets us out of bed in the morning. Or not…

Not only will this sort of content be fairly awful to write, it is unlikely that it’s going to really engage readers. However, some informative long-form content about exciting new building techniques, or an entertaining list of ‘The most impressive buildings in the world’ could draw in their target audience without boring us all to tears.

At the end of the day, if you’re engaged with the content you’re writing and think it’s interesting, the people reading it are much more likely to be too.

Looking at the posts Buzzfeed produced for Motorola, it is obvious that the content does not always have to directly reference a product for it to work. Instead of going for posts specifically about the handset, Buzzfeed produced ten pieces of original content for the phone company that were tenuously linked to its long battery life (but not really). Topics included the longest lasting celebrity marriages, gifs you could stare at forever and amazing places you should visit and photograph (using the phone obvi). The mention of Motorola and the Droid RAZR MA XX HD in these posts was brief, yet clearly effective.

6. Looks matter

This is what Buzzfeed looks like. This is what Buzzfeed would look like without the gifs. Terrifying isn’t it? This Tumblr was created by a rather sarcastic individual who “loves Buzzfeed’s writing, but couldn’t stand those pesky GIFs getting in the way.” It highlights how little the site’s content relies on actual writing – instead preferring an attention grabbing headline and a series of gifs.

While this bare incarnation of Buzzfeed throws up a number of questions about the sort of content people enjoy reading these days, the important thing to take away is that you can infinitely improve your article using the right images, gifs or graphics. In many cases, the gifs used on Buzzfeed have little to no relevance to the actual article, but we still click through and read, because it looks easy and attractive.

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