Will Stevens is the blogger outreach executive at 123-reg, the UK’s largest domain name registrar. He covers a range of topics including social media and tech issues.
There’s a lot to be admired about BuzzFeed — it dominates the Web to such a degree that it is almost impossible to log on to a social network and not see a story from the site. Its ability to grow its audience through the mastery of viral content has made BuzzFeed the envy of the online world. Marketers everywhere gaze longingly at BuzzFeed and wish their content had the same reach. After all, who wouldn’t want hundreds of thousands of clicks and shares? But should brands really be out chasing clicks with viral headlines and endless articles about celebrities and cute animals? The short answer is no.
BuzzFeed’s business model is built on branded content, and that means it needs to get as many page views as possible in order to maximize its income. Ultimately, the only way to do this is by producing clickbait articles for its ‘advertisers.’ However, if you’re selling a product or service, then clicks alone won’t be enough — you need to attract visitors who are interested in buying from you.
There is a place for clickbait at the top of the marketing funnel — it helps generate brand awareness as in the case of Kmart’s Ship My Pants video. However, as a general rule, clicks are little more than a vanity metric when it comes to marketing — conversions are a far more effective measurement of how well a brand’s content is performing. Besides, even if you want to focus on creating clickbait and nothing else, you’ll struggle to make an impact unless you have significant resources at your disposal.
One of the keys to BuzzFeed’s ongoing success is its ability to create content at scale. Its sheer size, and its ability to focus on content creation ahead of everything else, means that it’s able to cover pretty much any topic under the sun. Clearly the priorities for any business selling a product or service lie elsewhere, so generating huge amounts of content to ensure a stream of viral hits is only possible for a few companies. Massive brands such as Red Bull are able to invest in content on this kind of scale and it reaps the benefits in terms of brand awareness. But for most firms, this isn’t a realistic aim.
So what should marketers focus on instead?
Although viral content has its place, the first priority of a marketer should be to ensure that a brand’s content is aligned with the needs of the audience it is trying to reach. If, for example, you’re running a website that sells DIY tools, then you need to create content that will appeal to the kind of person who buys such items because they’re your potential customers.
That means things like how-to guides and project overviews — the kind of hints and tips that will help people achieve their DIY goals. Admittedly, there’s nothing particularly glamorous about the headline “The complete guide to fitting a shower unit,” especially compared to the headline “101 GIFs of cats doing cute things.” The latter has more general appeal and is likely to attract more clicks and shares, but there’s more than traffic to consider here. Cat articles may attract visitors to your site, but how many of those people are going to stick around to buy power tools? DIY guides may not have the universal appeal of funny GIFs, but they will find an audience and that audience will be much more likely to become customers. No matter what your niche, there will be areas where your brand can produce useful content that is of interest to the demographic you’re trying to reach.
Marketers should also put substantial effort into outreach after they publish a piece of content to make sure it reaches the biggest possible audience. By acquiring links and social mentions from key influencers in your niche, you’ll not only attract potential customers but also take the first steps toward building a community — something which will help keep readers engaged and build brand awareness.
Ultimately, it is building a community that has made BuzzFeed a success — not clever headlines or amusing pictures. People looking for that kind of content know BuzzFeed is the place to find it and that strong community base helps propagate its articles across social media. So rather than trying to emulate BuzzFeed as it is now, emulate the steps that it took to get itself into its position of dominance. Understand who your audience is and what they want before crafting valuable content that satisfies their needs. Then, take whatever steps are required to get it in front of the people who will find it useful. In the long term, this will build up an audience of potential customers who are interested in buying your product, as well as boosting your content’s reach.
It’s not a quick fix — you won’t attract the number of clicks you might if you were writing about Miley Cyrus, but if that’s your goal then your content is already doomed to fail. You might get clicks but you won’t get sales, and as marketers, we all know which of the two is most important.