4 Social Takeaways from Buzzfeed’s Social Strategy


Buzzfeed is really good at social media.

Yes, they’ve been accused of click-baiting and a few other tactics we wouldn’t suggest, but there’s tons of other things they do-both big and small, that together make a big impact on increasing their conversions (traffic, time on site, sharing behaviors, etc.).

They’re now a top online news source, so big that the NYT Innovation Report highlighted them as a top site to try to emulate. Traffic is strong and they’ve been able to weather the Facebook organic reach storm far better than competitors, such as Upworthy. And according to SimilarWeb, over half of their traffic has come from social channels over the last three months.

There’s a lot social marketers (and digital marketers, in general) can learn from their social strategies and tactics. Here’s 4 takeaways that we can all learn from:

1. Simple social share button re-ordering optimizes sharing

This is what the social share buttons looked like when I visited Buzzfeed from Twitter:

This is what I get served when I came in from Facebook:

And this is what happened when I came in from Pinterest:

This is probably the most subtle of changes, but the benefits are huge. In an article by Forbes, Buzzfeed says that when users come in from Pinterest, nobody shares via Twitter, so why waste space with that button? Dao Nguyen, Buzzfeed’s vice president of growth and data, said the small tweak caused the rate of social shares to double.

Takeaway: Just because Facebook is the biggest social network doesn’t mean you have to put the Facebook social sharing button first. Figure out what channels are performing well naturally, and then emphasize them. For example, if you know from historical behavior that a social share on Pinterest is worth $4 and a Facebook post is worth $3, make Pinterest the obvious share button. Furthermore, make sure you understand correlations between the information you have about a visitor (original referrer, location, device etc.) and his/her preferred (and most valuable) social channel. Leverage this data to drive better results. For example, if your mobile users are 3x more likely to share to Twitter and those shares are 2x more likely to generate a conversion, consider only showing Twitter sharing buttons to your visitors on mobile devices.

2. Mix up your content. Diversity is good.

When most people first think of Buzzfeed, they think humor-listicles and quizzes targeted at Millennials. But a major part (about half) of their content strategy is devoted to serious news. Real journalists exploring important, global topics. There’s a balance that appeals to readers and evidently appeals to Facebook’s algorithm when it decides what to show on people’s newsfeeds. Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti sums it up pretty well:

“BuzzFeed is unique in that we are equally obsessed with 1) entertaining content 2) substantive content and 3) social advertising. The teams that focus on each of these areas are equally important, which is a key part of our success. Some companies only care about journalism and as a result the people focusing on lighter editorial fare or advertising are second class citizens.”

Takeaway: Diversity of content is important. If you’re an ecommerce company, you don’t want all of your posts to be products or all of your posts to be promotions. Have a variety. Depth is key. Don’t be afraid to publish content outside of your perceived niche.

3. Experiment with a variety of formats

Buzzfeed experiments a lot. And it’s not just between text, pictures, and video-it’s different kinds of text and different combinations of text and pictures. They’re innovative and find what works and as soon as it stops working, they move on to find what will work. They brought quizzes, listicles, and faux academic studies into the entertainment mainstream, and have experimented with several video types and formats to optimize shareability, considering the challenge they face with a large portion of their visits coming from mobile.

Takeaway: Just because pictures on Facebook are in right now, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you should be doing. The great thing about social is that testing is inexpensive. Try things out, iterate, and don’t be scared to drop something when it’s not working.

4. Highly shareable content is necessary in the digital age

Their content is made for the digital age. It’s scannable and scrollable, but it’s also got depth if you want it. Through catchy visuals and headlines, readers are able to get the gist of an article pretty quickly and can then determine if it’s worth their time. Buzzfeed takes the time to think about what content will be deeply engaging to its audience; it practices empathy in understanding what its visitors are likely to share with others in their network. In fact, they’ve found that people were actively visiting the site not just to find content for themselves, but to find things to share with family members, friends, and Twitter followers.

Takeaway: We’re fully in the digital age, no longer in some transition period. Content needs to be considered through a digital- (and most of the times social-) lens. Think: will this stimulate social conversation? If yes, continue. If no, think through it again. Practice empathy for your visitors when creating content and they will reward you be sharing and engaging.


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Written by Jordan Con