The content highlighted on BuzzFeed is based on what’s popular with users. In this way, the viral feedback loop can be used by advertisers to test approaches and double down on what’s taking off, Peretti said.
This feedback loop is critical with sharing sites. StumbleUpon, a social discovery platform, has developed an ad platform that periodically inserts an advertiser’s site when users are “stumbling” through interesting sites recommended by the community. The advertiser sites, like all others, have sharing features. Once users share them, they are like all other non-advertiser recommended content.
“Clients get a doubling of their traffic because of the free samples,” said Garrett Camp, CEO of StumbleUpon, which claims it sends more traffic to sites than Twitter and Facebook. “If we don’t see any organic sharing, then we suggest adjusting the targeting.”
Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board ran a StumbleUpon campaign recently to drive traffic to a “Grilled Cheese Academy” microsite. Its traffic increased 60 percent, according to StumbleUpon, thanks to users giving a “thumbs up” to “Grilled Cheese Academy.”
“You can’t build it and hope people show up,” said Nick Newlin, interactive director at Shine Advertising, the agency behind the campaign. “It’s all about seeding it and getting it in front of the right audience.”
Larger Internet sharing platforms are taking similar approaches. Digg’s ad system rates brand content higher based on share rates. If the ads aren’t shared, they won’t appear.
Twitter takes a similar tack. Its ad program is premised on advertisers creating content like other users, in the form of Promoted Trends, sponsored tweets and daily @earlybird specials. The ad content then lives on like other tweets. Coke used a Promoted Trend to push its World Cup microsite. The result: 86 million impressions in a day, according to Coke, many of which came from retweets rather than paid views.
The ultimate hurdle in making this work ends up coming down to correlating widely shared brand content with product sales. “Can they get a million people to see your content?” said Josh Spear, co-founder of Undercurrent, the New York digital strategy firm that works with DonQ. “Yes, but they can’t make your product not suck.”