BuzzFeed’s secrets for creating engaging native ad content

FIPP member Native Advertising Institute asked Brandon Keenen, senior director at BuzzFeed EMEA, who spoke at their Native Advertising DAYS in November 2016.

Below are highlights from the interview, which have been slightly edited for clarity.

Look at the social media ecosystem as one

“BuzzFeed creates native advertising campaigns for the whole social media ecosystem by thinking of it as one. We do think about platform when we create content, and which platform it’s going to work on, but we also think on the whole social media ecosystem as the place we need to be. Our mantra is really getting great content to people where they are rather than expect them to come find us.”

“We work very closely with Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter” 

“We try to think two years ahead. Marketers tend to think and live in the now, and they have to create ROI and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure that the advertising works. We’re always working on new platforms. Snapchat, although it might be something new to a revenue line, is actually a platform we’ve been working on for many years. Our team is very integrated with them to understand how the platform works and is very collaborative with all the platforms. We work very closely with Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter to understand the platforms and how we can work best with them.”

Related: The top 10 examples of BuzzFeed doing native advertising

The important social media channels are the ones your users are on

“The social media channels that are the most important are the ones that our users happen to be on at that moment. We are very agnostic on channels as far as importance goes. Of course you have the big ones, which everyone knows and which we have a heavy reliance on, but to us it really is about making sure that content gets to the users. A user or someone who wants to engage with our content is someone who is hugely valuable to us, no matter where they are, and if we find them, and create great entertaining content for them on that platform, then it’s a win for us. The platform doesn’t really matter to us. It’s all about engagement.”

Find out where your users are by listening

“We know where the consumers are because we listen. Empathy is a great skill and something that is really important to us. BuzzFeed has been founded on listening to the audiences and understanding where they are. Our company is made up of our fans, people who love BuzzFeed. We eat drink and sleep it, so we know what to write and we know where they are. If we’re not there, they will tell us.”

“We have a very engaged active audience that likes to share with us and tell us what’s going on now. The picture of the dress, that looked either yellow, blue or black was a perfect example of someone from Tumblr sending us that picture and saying: ‘Hey me and my friends are having a big debate about this dress, and we don’t understand – we don’t know why this is happening, can you please ask your community’. We asked them and 20 million views later…”

Related: BuzzFeed campaign for Holiday Inn Express results in millions of page views and brand lift

Snapchat and YouTube is the future of social media – and messaging stays strong

“Snapchat to me is the future. There’s also many interesting things happening especially with messaging and dark social. I still believe strongly in YouTube. I think YouTube is a great channel, a great medium for distributing content. I have two kids at 12 and 14 years old and they are like my own little research group. I watch them, and I see what platforms they’re on, and they’re not predominantly on one platform, so the younger generations are on every platform, and they’re on platforms depending on where their friends are. So they might be using Instagram for messaging, they use Snapchat for messaging, they use YouTube for entertaining. And they like to experiment with new platforms. The ones that stick are obviously the ones that their friends are on. The main social media platforms will be the ones that we know of at the moment and especially the ones that are entertaining.”

“Facebook is definitely trying to get engagement across Facebook live, which could be considered the same platform but a new format. I think formats are probably more important for us to think about than new social media platforms. You have to think about where people engage, what formats they engage with and that will probably be the next type of social media platform. But I would say messaging is still key. The ability to share emotion and share happiness through messaging in a way other than just words is going to be really important.”

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BuzzFeed’s branded content can outperfom editorial content

“Our branded content at times outperforms our editorial content. It really just depends on the content. We don’t see a massive drop-off on branded content, so it’s a great opportunity for brands to engage with the audience and a community in a way that there’s no lesser value in because it’s ‘branded’ or ‘promoted by’. Our audience will let us know if the branded content is too integrated or if it reads too much like an advertisement. It’s really important to keep it authentic and to make sure that the content resonates with the audience regardless if there’s a brand or not.”

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Authenticity and connection is key to success with native advertising

“Authenticity is the most important thing for us. The secret to good native advertising is really being authentic and keeping things real. Being honest goes alongside with authenticity. We do a lot of communication formats, where we teach people stuff. You might have seen ‘Proper Tasty’ where we actually teach people how to cook and connect with them. Food is a great way to connect with people. Connecting through knowledge, through emotion, through happiness, through sadness through all those human emotions and through identity — that’s an important way to communicate.”

Make native advertising go viral by approaching it like editorial content

“We don’t think ‘hey this is going to go viral. To us it’s really about being authentic and getting the content to people who want to read it. Now if you strike a nerve with a combination of identity, emotion and how-to – and a lot of it’s about timing – you do have a higher tendency for things to get shared. When we think about virality, we don’t just want things to go viral for the sake of going viral. If there’s something we want to go viral, there’s got to be a reason for it. If it’s an editorial piece, we want to make an impact in the world, we want to make change for good. If it’s a branded piece, we want to make sure the brand is displayed and put in a nice light for awareness. But virality to me is authenticity – when you’re really being honest with your consumers and writing stuff that they enjoy and that’s entertaining.”

Source: Native Advertising Institute

the Native Advertising Institute is a FIPP member.

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