Welcome to another episode of 'Through the Wringer', a regular and comprehensive look behind-the-scenes at a big brand or YouTube superstar to see what content is working for them. This week it's the turn of BuzzFeed, one of the biggest publishing companies on the planet, so join us as we take a deep-dive into the BuzzFeedVideo channel on YouTube.
Ah BuzzFeed, or as I like to call it, “Don’t you have work to do?” is a collection of pop culture, news, and nostalgia nestled in a pile of sweaty listicles. BuzzFeed was created by Jonah Peretti who happens to be the older brother of comedian Chelsea Peretti, whose character on Brooklyn 99 reminds me of someone who gets all their news from BuzzFeed.
While easy to make fun of BuzzFeed’s success is undeniable. They have the 40th most popular website in the US, and they’ve carried that same winning strategy to YouTube. BuzzFeed Video is the 23rd most viewed channel on YouTube with 8 million subscribers and 5 billion total views. I believe BuzzFeed owes their YouTube content strategy success to two things. Big leadership and big data.
Do you have a brand or creator that you'd like us to put through the wringer for future episodes? Please let us know in the comments below!
This week on we'll be putting Buzzfeed through the wringer, so let's load up Buzzfeed's channel and see what insights we can squeeze out starting with Content
Right at the start, BuzzFeed appointed Ze Frank as their EVP of video. If you've never heard of Ze Frank before, you're welcome. He's the god father of vlogging and absolutely brilliant at creating online content that people share. I've put some links for you to explore in the description of this video. A personal favorite is “Ze Frank and the poetics of web video” by Michael Z. Newman. Some of BuzzFeed's earliest and most popular videos were created by Ze Frank. You've probably seen at least one of these videos shared by your Aunt.
I had the opportunity to hear Ze Frank speak at VidCon back in 2013 and he talked about he cut a lot of the bureaucracy out of a traditional production company. There is no division of labor where you have a director, writer, editor, D.P. No. Ze hires people who are good from top to bottom and can take a concept all the way through execution. That way they can come together in small groups to make interesting things. You'll notice that many BuzzFeed videos are shot in and around BuzzFeed's office, and BuzzFeed employees star in and create content on top of whatever it is that BuzzFeed employees do normally. This allows them to create content quickly and share knowledge between teams about what works and what doesn't. So combine a strong leader that understands the space with a number of nimble production teams THEN arm them with all the social sharing data you can handle.
BuzzFeed knows what topics are trending. It’s almost like they have a feed of buzzworthy things, so when you notice people sharing disney princess content like gangbusters, you make videos related to disney princess. By the way, here's BuzzFeed's most viewed video of all time. Your brand or business may not have access to BuzzFeed level data, but it's still a good lesson to look at what's working on your website when looking for new video ideas.
On the optimization side, BuzzFeed knows what it’s doing. On BuzzFeed.com editors can input a number of title variations and randomly serve different variations to see which title attracts the most shares and views. I can only imagine that these learnings are taken into account when titling YouTube videos.
Speaking of, ReelSEO did a deep dive look at BuzzFeed’s video titles that is worth a read.
My biggest takeaway was that shorter titles under 70 characters performed best. I put a link to the full article in the description of this video. On the tag side it appears that BuzzFeed adds them algorithmically. Here are the tags for their video on weird sex facts. It reads like an email that would go directly into your spam folder. You can see that they rank #2 when searching for weird sex facts or sex facts. However, looking at the tags from the top ranked video you can see that they are using a more targeted keyword strategy.
On the promotion side, BuzzFeed doesn’t need to use anything other than social media to get seen thanks to their content strategy. Back to this speech from Ze Frank, he talks about how BuzzFeed doesn’t see social as something you bolt on after the fact, or some kind of trick to pull to lower your ad spend. Social sharing is baked into the content itself.
For even more insight into this strategy be sure to check out BuzzFeed’s GM of video Jonathan Perelman’s talk from ReelSummit 2014 where he talks about the reasons that people share. BuzzFeed also breaks shareable content down into three content categories:
The Emotional Gift: Meaning, if you make someone feel something they’ll share something. Information People share things to be helpful and add value, and;
Identity. People share things to show that they belong to a group, and that group can be related to their job, gender, location, sexuality, hobbies, you name it. A great example is their video “How to piss of every New Yorker in 36 seconds”. Take a wild guess where this video was shared from the most.
On the community side BuzzFeed clearly knows how to tap into existing communities on YouTube, but they don’t necessarily interact with viewers on YouTube. They have a 2.2% engagement rate, which is better than most brands, but lower than PewDiePie’s 5.2%. This is probably because they get most of their views off of YouTube where it’s not as easy to leave a YouTube comment.
On the community participation side it doesn’t make much sense to respond to comments on their most popular videos since it would be impossible to keep up, but they do have some series where more comment involvement would me sense. The series that comes to mind is Wine is About it w/ Matt Belasi. People love the series because they love Matt, and a couple of appearance from Matt in the comments section would blow up the already active comment section.
With strong leadership and big data, BuzzFeed has virtually cracked the sharable content code. Thanks for watching, commenting, and supporting the show. You can explore a slew of links I mentioned in this review by checking out the description below. Otherwise be sure to check out some of my other channel reviews and subscribe for more new tutorials and reviews.