The Secret Formula BuzzFeed Uses To Go Viral
I recently watched an incredible TED Talk by BuzzFeed’s Publisher, Dao Nguyen.
In the talk, Dao breaks down the formula BuzzFeed use when crafting new content to pre-load it with proven elements of virality.
It’s pretty damn exciting because it’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a repeatable formula for making sure, or at least giving something the very best chance of going viral.
Everything stems from one core concept…
People engage with shared anticipation
When people feel like they’re part of a community, even for a short amount of time, they get excited.
BuzzFeed came to this revelation after a Facebook live stream pranking their boss, Ze Frank by filling his office with baby goats.
What they witnessed was not only an audience of ninety thousand viewers by the time Ze entered his office, but also rife interaction in anticipation of Ze turning up due to his multiple delays.
When they tested this theory of anticipation by wrapping a water melon in progressively more elastic bands until it finally exploded, the live stream achieved nine hundred thousand viewers!
This lead to a monumental realisation:
Focus On What It Does For The Audience
When trying to classify viral content and understand why it went viral, it’s tempting to focus on ‘what the content is about‘.
Whereas what BuzzFeed discovered is that the real focus should be on ‘how is it helping users do a real job in their lives‘.
In other words, what does the viewer actually get out of it themselves.
Being part of a community?
Being able to associate themselves with it?
This led to the creation of a formal grouping of viral content categories… which is pretty amazing…
Category 1: “Makes Me Laugh”
The first set of bubbles on the left is the humour categorisation.
Now from my own experience, people love to share things that make them laugh because they feel almost like they’re the ones making the joke!
Ever noticed how when you share someone else’s post on Facebook the notification when someone likes it says “Joe Bloggs Liked Your Post”… Not “Joe Bloggs Liked the post you shared” or whoever originally published it?
And this feeling of ‘this represents me‘ is relevant all the way across from left to right.
Category 2: “This Is Me”
This is content that makes you joke about yourself, often in a self-deprecating way.
We all have our vices, gripes and imperfections and letting off steam about them, or feeling assured that we aren’t the only ones harbours a great sense of community.
A Facebook page who do this fantastically and regularly get ten to fifty thousand likes per post is ‘Classical Art Memes’…
(Incidentally – this page is one of my massive guilty pleasures. I spend far too much time there!)
Category 3: “This Is Us”
Building on the above idea of individual ownership of a piece of content, this next category adds another powerful piece of the puzzle – connection.
“It’s amazing when you find a piece of media that precisely describes your bond with someone.” – Dao Nguyen
I noticed something pretty smart BuzzFeed were doing a while back and this clearly falls under the ‘this is us’ category:
For my sins, as a student I worked for some time at a Wetherspoon pub – for anyone outside the UK, Wetherspoon is a chain of discount drinking houses heavily frequented by alcoholics and an overbearing sense of dread…
A BuzzFeed article started making the rounds on Facebook amongst the network of people I worked with while I was there:
In this genius move they’re engaging the network of circa 37,000 current employees PLUS the many more who have since left that shared the harrowing experiences of working at this discount pub chain.
Category 4: “Helps Me…”
This category engages our sense of curiosity and trivia.
I don’t know about you but whenever I finish watching a film I immediately launch IMDB and start scrolling through the trivia section.
There’s something addictive to these little snippets of bitesize knowledge, even if I’d struggle to recall one single fact that I’ve read over the years!
Also under this category would fall the many hours of recipe videos I’ve never cooked, or those ‘top-10-uses-for-a-paper-clip’ posts you’ll never do but make you go ‘ahhhh cool!’.
Also in a slight crossover into category 5 – content can help people to fulfil their aspirations.
“Progress equals happiness. Even if you’re not where you want to be yet. If you’re on the road, if you’re improving, if you’re making progress, you’re gonna love it. You’re gonna feel alive.” – Tony Robbins
Everyone has aspirations and hopes of becoming a better person. Content that helps them get there can resonate strongly with people and really switch them out of passive mode and into engaged.
Category 5: “Makes Me Feel…”
Finally triggering the biggest domino of all: Emotion.
This category encompasses all things that generate the warm fuzzies. From cats pulling painfully adorable stunts to inspirational stories of success.
One of my favourite channels doing this is Goalcast.
Each of their video tells the story in short clips of a famous or inspirational person and how they overcame adversity, closing off with a simple, core value in two or three words…
“Make It Happen” or “Live Boldly”
Their format is simple as hell, but they absolutely clean up when it comes to viewership and thusly sponsorship deals.
So in summing up, how do BuzzFeed make content go viral?
They make content that people feel a part of.
They trigger people’s emotions and allow them an opportunity to connect over shared experiences.
They get into the fabric of the simple yet entertaining things in life, and become part of people’s conversation.