BuzzFeed Defines the Secret to Social Storytelling

At a recent conference, BuzzFeed’s chief revenue officer Andy Wiedlin said brands should strive to be more like the co-worker who always tells the great stories people can’t wait to share.

Right now, he said more brands are acting like the co-worker who constantly interrupts colleagues to ask for help with a project.

BuzzFeed has used this approach to storytelling very successfully, pulling in 85 million unique visitors in August. The social-media fueled news platform is also becoming known as a poster child for native advertising, helping brands reach the coveted millennial audience. However, BuzzFeed is not all kittens and listicles. Brands must understand why storytelling has risen as a marketing practice to discover the secret to creating truly shareable content.

Cultural Shift
Humanity’s love of storytelling and sharing information goes back to ancient cave paintings. Until recently, technology and other obstacles made it necessary for consumers to get much of their information via gatekeepers. News came from specific reporters, via a limited number of mediums, at set times. We learned about products from highly produced ads made by the brands themselves — ads that interrupted our news or entertainment with blatant sales messages.

The rise of the Web and social media eliminated the gatekeeper’s role and allow consumers to get content when they want and how they want it.  Consumers are empowered to share information among each other and news comes from countless sources the second it happens. We also learn about brands from fellow consumers — who may or may not have good things to say about the products.

Now that audiences can banish interruptions with the click of a button or tap of the screen, how can brands adapt? Wiedlin said marketers must create content that consumers not only embrace but also eagerly pass along to their friends.

‘Facebook Test’
“Content must pass the ‘Facebook test’ to determine whether or not it’s engaging and shareable,” said Wiedlin. “Content creators should ask themselves if they would want to see that piece of content in their own newsfeeds, and then share it to others.”

To pass this test, brands should:

  • Connect with consumers emotionally;
  • Resonate with aspects of their consumers’ personal identity;
  • Tap into the consumers’ love of nostalgia and sharing memories from their past;
  • Not embarrass anyone. People don’t usually share embarrassing material.

While marketers should use a light hand, they also need to be absolutely transparent that they are the producers of that content. Fewer things turn off consumers faster that emotional manipulation and dishonesty — whether perceived or legitimate.

Measurement & Planned Spontaneity
Wiedlin said BuzzFeed “measures everything” about its content, including engagement and sharing. It knows when content like the Toyota-sponsored “Top 20 Coolest Hybrid Animals” piece performs well, and it knows from experience that users love articles that reminisce about pop culture memories like “Full House.”

Wiedlin also noted that if brands can’t take advantage of the real-time marketing trend, they should tap into “planned spontaneity.” For example, retailers could team with BuzzFeed to produce a “People You Always See on Black Friday” feature that’s released early Black Friday morning.

Sites such as BuzzFeed, Upworthy and their ilk may seem like sensational diversions to some. But, as more and more brands are noting, they’re tapping into the rapidly growing culture of social storytelling. And as sites like BuzzFeed expand into more traditional news, they’re becoming much more than a powerful online destination to a growing number of consumers.

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Melissa Booth
Melissa Booth

I believe good content either informs or entertains. Great content does both. As Managing Editor for Media is Power and Empower MediaMarketing, I strive to make sure everything here hits that sweet spot as closely as possible. I've spent a decade-plus in the marketing industry and like to think I've developed a taste for content of all types -- good, great and otherwise.