BuzzFeed: The Target of Social Media
While I spend a lot of my time watching BuzzFeed videos and getting distracted on assignments taking “which ‘Gilmore Girls’ guy is your soulmate?” quizzes (I got Kirk …), I didn’t actually know exactly what BuzzFeed was. So breaking all academic codes, I consulted Wikipedia, which informed me that BuzzFeed was a “social news and entertainment company” with a focus on digital media and digital technology in order to provide ‘the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment, and video’. So basically, BuzzFeed is everything and exists pretty much everywhere (online, at least). BuzzFeed currently runs over eight YouTube channels with over 30 million subscribers collectively, features daily articles and quizzes on their website Buzzfeed.com and runs over 15 Instagram accounts in addition to multiple Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and managing their growing presence on Snapchat.
THE TARGET STRATEGY
BuzzFeed has everything you could ever think of and more, they’re everywhere and you never just walk out with the thing you came for. One minute I’m watching couples swapping jobs for a day, the next I’m watching two guys eat a $100 gold-coated doughnut. They are the Target of social media.
I took finding a mind map that showed all the different facets of BuzzFeed just to get my head around the company and all of its different channels and platforms because it gets extremely hard to keep track of, especially with the recent name change of BuzzFeedYellow to “Boldly” (“same content, just bolder”) and the fairly recent addition of new channels such as “Tasty” and “Nifty”.
BuzzFeed’s “Target strategy”, shown above with the vast network of channels, gives the company the capacity to reach multiple markets and viewers. Rather than focusing on a niche audience, BuzzFeed’s different channels allows them to appeal to every type of viewer. Specifically (and strategically), Buzzfeed captures the three markets with the largest influencer base to appeal to a mass audience, including food, lifestyle and parenting.
BuzzFeed captures the food market with series on their main BuzzFeed channels such as “Worth It” exploring food “drastically different price points”, additionally launching “Tasty” that features quick and simple recipes in video format, naturally. With food being one of the most popular social media markets, BuzzFeed is able to attract a large audience of home chefs (and college dorm chefs — because those are definitely a life saver some days).
In addition to appealing to the food market, BuzzFeed also captures the lifestyle market in a broad sense, featuring videos of couples (Ned and Ariel may be one of YouTube’s strongest power couples, let’s be real), weddings, beauty and travel-related content on both their website, social media and YouTube channels. For example, BuzzFeedYellow’s series “Ladylike” has gained a lot of popularity among lifestyle consumers, featuring a group ladies trying different beauty products, hacks and trends. With a lifestyle a popular category for social media influencers, the lifestyle market encompasses a large audience for BuzzFeed and digital content creators.
BuzzFeed, among capturing just about every other market, has also tapped into the parenting market with individual videos that appeal to parents, such as “weird things new parents worry about” and “weird advice new parents get”, video series such as “Wine Mom” (a personal favourite even though I am far away from being a mother myself). By producing this type of content, BuzzFeed is able to capture the growing and increasingly profitable “mommy blogger/vlogger” market and therefore expand their viewership.
Aside from appealing to these large online markets, BuzzFeed offers over thirty different categories on its website, ranging from travel to weddings and just about everything in between. These three categories, that happen to dominate social media platforms, are only a few of the markets BuzzFeed taps into. This social media strategy allows BuzzFeed to penetrate nearly every aspect of online content and offer something that everybody can relate to, allowing BuzzFeed to become social media viewer’s Target: a one stop shop for, well, everything. With this type of strategy, it is no wonder BuzzFeed has millions of subscribers and billions of views across platform with constantly expanding markets content that appeals to every type of viewer.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY
As part of appealing to these different markets, BuzzFeed builds communities surrounding these particular audiences by creating authentic content and by building brands surrounded each of the BuzzFeed employees regularly featured in videos.
Let’s Be Real
A common thread I have seen through the most successful uses of social media by corporations and individuals is authenticity. An audience can sense when people are being real and respond to authentic content because they are able to relate to it. Because of this, organizations and individuals are able to build up a social media community that embodies trust, relatability and a certain level of friendship. BuzzFeed’s content is simply human. Much of their content across platforms addresses important topics such as the LGBTQ community, racism, gender equality and experiences that we all experience in our day to day lives. Most importantly, BuzzFeed puts faces and voices to these experiences and issues to build a community through emotional appeal. Audience members not only feel like they are being represented through BuzzFeed’s content, but can relate to the stories on a personal level as the company values representation and diversity.
The Names of BuzzFeed
In order to convey this authenticity, BuzzFeed features a diverse range of individuals in its videos and allows each one of these individuals to share their own narrative within the BuzzFeed “empire”. This is an essential strategy for BuzzFeed to be able to build a community, so audience members can relate to these individuals and their experiences.
BuzzFeedViolet in particular organizes its playlists according to the names of the individuals and builds series around these individuals and their stories — with series such as “Unfortunately Ashly”. Scrolling down the comments of BuzzFeed’s YouTube videos, you’ll see a lot of comments like “I only clicked because Safiya is in the thumbnail”. And no, they’re not just from me. Safiya was one of BuzzFeed’s most popular employees, starring in Ladylike videos and videos with her boyfriend Tyler until leaving the company this year to build her own YouTube channel. Videos featuring the core BuzzFeed group, Keith, Saifya, Freddie, Steven and Ned to name a few, tend to get significantly more views than videos featuring lesser known, showing the connection between fans to these individuals.
But how does BuzzFeed actually get their community members to click? BuzzFeed is probably the first thought that comes to mind when we think of clickbait, with titles like “17 Times Pizza Was Disrespected In The Worst Possible Ways” and “16 Cheat Sheets For If You’re a Foodie But Also Lazy AF”. These article titles are intended to entice viewers into clicking by throwing in numbers. A lot of these titles (in fact, the majority of titles) are paired with memes — another tactic to entice viewers to read articles. I, like a lot of others I know, will click anything that has a meme paired with it. BuzzFeed uses a combination of these two tactics to generate clicks, with an emphasis on “going viral”. BuzzFeed uses these two tactics in hopes that its content will gain traction and audience members will click on videos and articles. While there is a negative connotation to the word “clickbait”, the strategy has helped BuzzFeed generate more clicks and gain attention for some of its content.
While clickbait and memes tend to gain the clicks on BuzzFeed videos and articles in the first place, BuzzFeed retains audience members and continues to engage them with content through video strategies such as the use of words, the length of the videos, the audio element in the videos and through the use of series. Watch the following video and pay attention the way the video is editing — with words and phrases written on the screen, frequent cuts and the variations in audio — with some quiet moments and background music at other points in the video.
*Apologies for the choice of video, I’m hungry.
From the beginning of the video, there are frequently text popping up on the screen to illustrate concepts and highlight important information (like the names of the individuals featured in the video, further emphasizing the personal aspect of the video). The textual element of this video keeps the viewer stimulated and adds another interesting aesthetic element to the video.
This video, in line with the majority of the professional high-quality videos produced by independent content creators and larger companies has frequent cuts and different angles to keep the viewer interested given the shorter attention span of audience members (myself included). While I tend to leave YouTube videos halfway through because my terribly short attention span just can’t handle it, rarely do I stop watching a BuzzFeed video before it’s finished — and that’s very intentional with the use of these video tactics.
The audio playing throughout the video, though a subtle element stimulates interest and sets the tone for the video. Not only does the video use different background songs (all very light-hearted and upbeat) at different points in the video, but the volume changes at different points. Note the change in the song and the increase in volume as they transition from the car into the second ice cream stop at 4 minutes and 15 seconds into the video.
These video fundamentals may seem like small details, but help to retain viewers and keep audience members interested and engaged with the content given the shorter user attention spans (myself included). The videos are simply easy and interesting to watch, which keeps the community engaged, shapes the personal narratives in a meaningful and relatable way and keeps us all coming back.
4) The Series
With YouTube now accommodating more to series, allowing users to post video content as part of a series with episodes, BuzzFeed has responded by creating more series including “Ladylike” and “Worth It”. These series have earned a great response among audience members. Unlike standalone videos that aim to go “viral” in the same sense as a “one hit wonder”, series are like a good album, they keep audience members engaged and coming back. Series have presented a new model for BuzzFeed videos that aren’t necessarily focused on virality, and instead focus on building a sustainable viewership.
BURSTING THE BUBBLE: A NEW FORM OF ONLINE NEWS
Lastly, BuzzFeed is moving towards a shift to a new form of online news — aiming to pop filter bubbles and encouraging viewers to explore ideas outside of their social media comfort zone. This new form of distributing news online is integral to BuzzFeed’s social media strategy, specifically on their platform “BuzzFeedNews” and their website and mobile applications. BuzzFeed’s new “Outside Your Bubble” feature that will appear at the bottom on its articles, stating that “we’re all living in filter bubbles, on social media in particular”. “Anybody who works in news has spent the last year watching how social media affects people’s views of the world and can close you off to dissenting views”. This way of distributing news differentiates BuzzFeed in the market of online news, opens up a new market of individuals wanting to burst their filter bubbles and makes BuzzFeed a more credible online news source.
Overall, despite a lot of the negativity surrounding BuzzFeed, its social media strategy has allowed the company to penetrate nearly all aspects of social media and create a large community surrounding the brand, which not many other companies have the resources to do.