How BuzzFeed Creates Contagious Content for Brands [INTERVIEW]

No longer is it just about so-called sticky content that keeps readers around, or even clicky content that causes them to hit a link; it’s also about serving up content that is spreadable.”

— David Carr in his New York Times article, “Significant and Silly at BuzzFeed

If BuzzFeed, the online publication and self proclaimed “viral content detector,” has one goal, it’s to get clicks. And if Tanner Ringerud, BuzzFeed’s director of creative services, has one goal, it’s to get clicks for brands.

Ringerud, a former on-site editor, spends his time helping brands align with viral trends on the Internet. “My job is really figuring out how to get these to sync,” he explains. “You don’t want to be the brand that does the planking thing too late.”

His current role actually developed out of necessity, as brands began to approach the sharing laboratory. “We try to work together in a way that our users and the Internet as a whole will enjoy.” BuzzFeed does this by leasing its editors creative agency-style to companies looking to increase their exposure. Together, they create on-site content that fits the “BuzzFeed Tone” — an upbeat and zany voice, like Superbowl ads mixed with Internet meme culture.

Their work is provocative, timely and streamlined for sharing — and may be the perfect breeding ground for digital strategists to implement some adventurous branding.

The BuzzFeed Approach

Brands may be intimidated by the site’s gutter-brilliance approach, but the formula definitely works. For every 100,000 views generated on top of BuzzFeed’s paid advertising partnership, an extra 30,000 views on average are generated from sharing.

BuzzFeed’s creative formula also has worked well for improving brand perceptions. GE recently tested multiple campaigns around the internet with their video series, “The GE Show.” Of all their approaches, they noticed the biggest improvement in brand associations, like creativity and innovation with Buzzfeed’s content.

“It’s great for brands who are trying, and saying ‘now what?'” Ringerud explains. He sees content marketing as a positive trend, though understands that many companies still lack the web expertise and editorial perspective to produce truly effective Internet gold. “It’s great that brands are doing it,” he says, “The trick is doing it right.”

BuzzFeed’s omnivoracious community — 75% of their on-site viewers are actively looking for something to pass on to their friends — make the platform a perfect place for experimenting, especially if a brand has already been implementing a content strategy.

Packaging for Virality

Brand involvement varies on BuzzFeed — some use the site to highlight their own content, while others attempt to launch branded viral trends. BuzzFeed welcomes this variance, arguing that each brand must create the right type of wackiness for sharing to occur.

For companies who are hesitant to BuzzFeed’s somewhat aggressive tactics, placing experimental “containers” around their own online properties offers a less intensive way to play with the wackiness.

“We’ve had success with more traditional campaigns, like with Dell’s branded videos,” Ringerud notes. “They really worked with us to see how we could help get them in front of eyeballs.”

By placing the branded video inside an Internet friendly list like “The 10 Most Infamous Computer Viruses,” the site sends out bait — and waits for bites. But unlike “clever” link selling or sneaky Internet product placements, BuzzFeed’s approach is surprisingly genuine. Engaging in digital conversation can feel awkward and forced, but the site’s content is “inherently social,” Ringerud points out.

Brands like razor company Schick, on the other hand, take their experiments much further. Schick worked with BuzzFeed to create a meme called “razor-bombing,” where subjects “shaved the world around them.”

“We just said here’s this thing, its the next planking. Do what you will,” Ringerud notes. But users loved it, so the site helped launch a contest, where other users could use their own pics. The phenomena ended blew up — and it didn’t seem to make the experience less authentic for users knowing that Schick’s name was attached throughout.

Storytelling In a Digital Age

Today an “active” social media user is still somewhat of a mysterious persona, so it can be incredibly useful for brands to try some riskier content. While traditional ads use more of a Mad-Men approach trying to make distant glamour appealing, the Internet seems to be a more humble, and even freaky group of consumers.

BuzzFeed’s refreshingly self-mocking approach to new-media storytelling seems to represent this change in the media landscape. It really is giving people what they want in a way that has never been done before.

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