Lost in all the hype about GIFs and high-profile hirings is BuzzFeed's original identity as an online publishing experiment. At its core, BuzzFeed is all about the data, which the site is constantly collecting through a publishing partner network (including more than 200 publishers like The Huffington Post, TMZ, and The Daily Beast, with 300 monthly users). Adweek obtained a copy of BuzzFeed's July Social Intelligence Report, distributed to members of the network, which reveals that celebrity-driven content is king, Reddit is becoming a monster for traffic referrals, and for publishers, Pinterest could be nothing more than a fad.
Reddit is a referral monster
In July, Reddit set a new pageviews record, topping 3.1 billion for the month. Yet even more impressive is the jump that publishers in the BuzzFeed Network saw in Reddit referrals, which increased by 64 percent from June to July. The report also shows that StumbleUpon, the long-reigning king of traffic referrals to the network, continues to fall, which suggests that Reddit's socially sharable content may be taking users away from the browsing platform.
For many publishers, Pinterest falls flat
At Pinterest's peak in April 2012, the photo-centric social site was churning out nearly 400,000 social referrals. In July, Pinterest served up only 114,000 referrals (virtually unchanged from 110,000 in June), illustrating that for many publishers, Pinterest may be more of a social gimmick than anything else. Others have explored this phenomenon recently, noting that Pinterest isn't naturally aligned with the newsgathering operations of many publishers, though lifestyle sites like Brides.com are having excellent success with the site. Things aren't all gloomy for Pinterest though. The site has seen a 200 percent increase in referral traffic throughout its first full year of public operation.
Sure, sex sells, but celebs drive social traffic
The most viral story (sum total of search, direct and referral traffic) on the BuzzFeed Network comes from US Weekly's coverage of Kristen Stewart's affair with director Rupert Sanders. Stories about R&B singer Usher's stepson from TMZ, and articles on the 2012 Pop Olympics from Popdust also performed exceptionally well both on social sites and through email referrals. Even among political stories the second most popular story came from TMZ, which had video of Chris Christie arguing on a boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.
When taking in this data, it is important to remember that while BuzzFeed's Network cuts across a wide swath of the Internet, a majority of the publishers focus on sharing text-based articles with many sites creating and aiming content for social network sharing. It is for these reasons that BuzzFeed Network statistics may place more emphasis on social referrals rather than areas like search. BuzzFeed's partner network shows Facebook and Google are virtually tied in referrals, with Google eeking out the social network by 200,000 (59.9 million referrals to 59.7 million).
Yet, for publishers, the sheer referral numbers presented in the report tell the story of a crucial shift in online publishing that seems hard to ignore. By a large margin, the success of content from sites like Reddit to generate referral traffic stems from how well it resonates on an emotional level with an audience. Even popular celebrity content centered on issues of infidelity, scandal, and controversy, like the Trayvon Martin shooting. The trend of publishers creating engaging content that understands and connects in a meaningful way with an audience may be a reaction to the previous, more robotic era of search-optimized content, but it has proven results to draw viewers as denizens of the Web exhibit a growing dependence on social networks.