How did a UK version of a New York-based social news and entertainment website reach 16 million monthly visitors in just under a year? In a Gorkana briefing on Friday 21 February we learned that shareability, not SEO, is behind BuzzFeed UK’s meteoric rise in popularity. Editor Luke Lewis explained that the site gets 70% of its traffic from Facebook and 6% from Twitter, as well as smaller percentages from other social media sites like Pinterest and Tumblr. Organic searches account for very few visits to the site per month, meaning SEO is quite far down the team’s list of priorities.
But what is shareability and how can businesses use lessons from BuzzFeed UK in their own digital strategies?
If you use social media yourself and have ever re-tweeted something or shared a Facebook post, then you already know what shareability is. It is essentially the measure of how many people are likely to spread a piece of content to their contacts. Shareability doesn’t necessarily equal endorsement. People can share things because they want to expose wrongdoing to more people or to have a laugh at someone else’s expense, as some have found. But generally having shareable content increases its reach.
So how does this apply to corporate digital strategy and what lessons can businesses draw from BuzzFeed UK’s success? First of all it’s worth making clear that we are in no way suggesting you just ‘do a BuzzFeed’. Lewis was quick to point out that there are some awful examples of brands, individuals or political parties creating what they think are fun listicles (list articles) but getting it very wrong. Instead, it’s about taking a few key lessons from BuzzFeed UK’s success and applying them to your online presence.
So, ignoring all my own advice, here’s 4 lessons BuzzFeed UK can teach you about shareability:
1. Monitor what’s successful. The BuzzFeed UK team spends a lot of time making it easy for staff to evaluate success. Their writers use data on views and shares to inform future content creation, recognising that this is the ‘science of publishing’. Make sure the people who create content for your website can also monitor how well their posts do, for instance via a ‘viral dashboard’.
2. Know your audience. While the US and UK BuzzFeed teams share best practice, they know that very different posts are shareable in the two regions. Whereas US users want inspirational news stories in the Upworthy vein, like 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity, in the UK we tend to think that’s all a bit naff and instead go for something a bit more satirical like 21 Pictures of Politicians In Wellies Staring at Floods. Know your audience to predict what will work and what just won’t.
3. Don’t chase the universal. Sometimes we can get caught in the trap of trying to make our content appealing to everyone, thinking that this will make it more popular. BuzzFeed UK’s track record shows that the exact opposite is true – posts that drill down into an aspect of regional or class identity do far better than ones that are more general interest. Target niche audiences with tailored messages where you can.
4. Most importantly, foster a culture of experimentation. Try out different titles for online content, they don’t all have to be keyword-stuffed. Try different upload times. Try different calls to action. Just keep trying and, if you’re monitoring what works, eventually you’ll have more hits than misses.
This blog first appeared on PRCA on 25th February 2014.