What can businesses learn from how Buzzfeed organises its content?

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how Buzzfeeds maps its content through user desires

“What’s the secret to making content people love?” asks BuzzFeed’s publisher Dao Nguyen, who specialises in creating viral quizzes, lists and videos for its audience.

If you work in more traditional industries – insurance, accountancy, manufacturing, logistics, information delivery or techcomm, let’s say – it can be annoying and  disheartening to compare your business stats with those of entertainment media, who can post cute kitten videos as a content strategy.

Often the content lessons of entertainment/media don’t apply well to business. But Nguyen’s TED talk on how Buzzfeed organises its content did gather its own viral attention among content creators because what Buzzfeed does, it does extremely well and in a highly competitive market, too.

What’s relevant to non-entertainers here is a reminder to stay relevant to your audience. What’s interesting and takes it up a level is that Buzzfeed is doing this through data gathering and a method it calls ‘cultural cartography’. This is essentially using data to map its users desires – which being human and cultural are quite transferable across industries. Each bit of content is then chosen on the basis of fulfilling these desires and ‘helping users do a real job in their lives’.

The bubble chart in the video (and main picture) covers five colour-coded areas of user desire or social function:

  • funnies – something that makes people laugh or surprises them
  • ‘this is me’ – something users can relate to about themselves, such as appearing to be ‘in the know’
  • ‘this is us’ – tapping into modern networks and the wider sense of connection we have with others
  • learning – where a lot of traditional business content is focused; finding out things you need to know, achieving goals
  • feels – content users empathise with, often tapping into emotions such as anticipation, excitement, curiosity, sense of community and a feeling of ‘I/you need this’ content.

Buzzfeed’s system goes beyond the usual data of how many views, likes and shares a piece of content gets to its social function. They analyse why a live video or quiz worked, or didn’t work. They gather metadata on who their customers are, what they like, comment content, what they care about, their emotions, how they came to the content, what they did with it – and they try to understand Buzzfeed’s role within that.

Focusing on customer needs is the basis of a good content strategy. Categorising for culture and humanity – cynical as that may seem – goes a step further by creating content that fulfil a social function such as enabling people to connect, to humble-brag, to appear as experts, to be helpful, and so on. Business may never have the reach of entertainment-based media but if targeted content is the goal then tapping into your customers’ social/emotional needs could help boost your content across their networks.

How do you think about producing content? Do you categorise or create content beyond subject matter and informational needs? Or do you make content choices on a more intuitive, less formal level? How do you create content that readers empathise with and want to share with their network? In a connected world, how much does the social and community element of your content come into your content choices?

Watch the video for the full talk or follow the link: What makes something go viral?


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