Five BuzzFeed Ideas to Steal

By Linda Holliday, via The Flow Blog

Jonah Peretti, the site’s founder has been hacking the Internet to understand how content goes viral for more than a decade. After helping found the Huffington Post, he founded BuzzFeed in 2006 to focus on the sort of content that people want to share. That meant BuzzFeed didn’t worry about how many people came to its site or apps. It’s all about getting the stuff where people already are — in their social networks and flipping through the feeds on their phones.

It’s amazing how many companies still obsess about building home pages that very few people visit.

They miss the power from working hard to be invited into the world controlled by their users….


This idea contradicts everything that big media companies and marketers believe: that it is their brands that confer the value on what they make. What’s ironic is that by embedding itself in so many peoples’ feeds, BuzzFeed has also built a brand that people have come to seek out, downloading its app and visiting its home page. It is also expanding into serious reporting on politics, business and foreign affairs, producing some long-form articles sprinkled among the listicles.

So here are 5 ways you can steal BuzzFeed’s best ideas that will rock your business.


The most important thing to copy about BuzzFeed is not what they do, but how they decide to do it.

The company is built on a tight feedback loop of human creativity, real-time measurement, and rigorous analysis applied to a high volume of items. Without the people, you’ll never come up with the things that resonate with your audience. Without the analysis, you’ll never figure out which ones actually do.

Your brand might or might not benefit from publishing posts like “15 Hedgehogs With Things That Look Like Hedgehogs.” So try it and find out. Then try something else.

Get rid of the duds and double down on what works.


Yes, you have to get your audience to engage, to click. How you do that, of course, varies whether you’re dog food, derivatives or democrats.

Clickbait isn’t the problem; it’s Click bait-and-switch, when you promise more than you deliver, that fouls the water. You’ve got to understand both what your audience finds interesting, and also how to make sure it sounds interesting as they zoom by it in their feeds.


The reason why BuzzFeed is filled with posts like “How Well Do You Remember Britney Spears Lyrics?” and “24 Times Harry Potter Was The Worst Character Ever” is they connect to a shared cultural experience of its primary audience.

There is a zone of interest that binds your brand and your customers. It could be urban adventures for Timberland or science innovations for GE.

Find what rings true and talk about that.


Interest in a topic soars and crashes like a hot stock amid a sea of rumors. You don’t have time to hear about the trend on the news, call a meeting, design a strategy and then get around to doing something. The trend will be gone before the agenda is published.

You’ve got to be prepared long before things happen. We know there’s a Valentine’s Day, there’s likely to be a snowstorm, celebrities will break up, school will get out.

So when there is a trend, you can hop on it early and get out before the crash.


People trust their network of friends and those they follow to help find what’s interesting. So you want to be in a conversation with everyone who has a lot of connections to your audience.

You already know how to use PR and strategic partnerships. You know how to buy celebrity endorsements, and shouldn’t be afraid to pay for attention online either. BuzzFeed does, for example promoting posts on Facebook.

There are other ways to expand networks that are more foreign to traditional marketers. Engage others in an online conversation. Link to a blog that writes about a topic relevant to your brand. Give it props. Or pick a fight. If you’ve got something interesting to say, the blog will link back. And others will notice.

In the battle for attention, you have to be in it to win it.

Photo Credit: James Ellsworth Brehm’s illustration from a 1917 edition of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” shows the enterprising young lad getting the job done, after a fashion.


As I said in the beginning, what BuzzFeed knows that is most anathema to most traditional marketers, is that it needs to be where its audience is rather than forcing the audience to come to them.

That’s easy to say. But it takes a lot of work to get a corporate culture to remember it. Just remember, if the audience comes back to you, it’s yours forever.

If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.



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