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5 Content Lessons BuzzFeed Can Teach SaaS Companies

By Carrie DagenhardMar 25, 2015

Buzzfeed Content“Before we get started today, I have a question,” said BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen as she took the stage of SXSW Interactive earlier this month. “How many of you saw white and gold?”

Instantly, the packed hotel ballroom erupted into a flurry of hand-raising, knowing laughter and shouts of disagreement. Everyone in the room had an answer to her question. Everyone knew Dao was referencing the dress.

In late February 2015, the listicle-fueled internet media company turned a Tumblr post about a mediocre dress into an internet sensation, receiving an astounding 38 million views and traffic from every corner of the globe. Of course, while this phenomenon was the fastest spreading viral home-run the organization had seen, it certainly wasn’t their first.

BuzzFeed is known for its wildly popular videos, lists and, recently, hard-hitting investigative journalism. But, while your marketing team may not have access to the same resources, there are plenty of ways your technology company can replicate BuzzFeed’s highly effective habits in your own content strategies.

Here are the top five lessons SaaS companies can learn from BuzzFeed:

There are No Short-cuts to Shareability

“People can be tricked into clicking in a number of ways,” says Dao. “But people can’t be tricked into sharing.”

In other words, all the catchy descriptions and click-baiting headlines in the world won’t get you anywhere if your content isn’t worth sharing. But, in order to make your content shareable, you have to understand why people share content in the first place.

According to BuzzFeed, people share content because of one of three reasons:

  • They’re inspired

  • They’re relieved

  • They identify on a personal level


As you may notice, all three of the above reasons share one common theme: emotion. This brings me to my next point.

Emotion = Impact

What’s the first thing you think you do when you hear good news? Call your mom? Post on Facebook? Gush to your coworkers? As human beings, we’re driven by emotion and, more often than not, our emotions compel us to share.

That’s precisely why an article entitled 35 Pictures that Prove the World isn’t Such a Bad Place earned BuzzFeed more than 21 million views. Thousands of people read the article, felt inspired and decided to share it with their networks.

Does that mean your brand needs to trash all your industry-relevant content in favor of listicles about human kindness and puppies? Of course not. The takeaway here is that you should always seek to produce content that evokes emotion. Maybe it’s an inspirational story about how your product is being used for social good, or perhaps it’s an eBook that helps your target persona solve an issue and elicits feelings of relief.

Always Know Your Best Channel

BuzzFeed is worth somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion so, when it comes to publishing content across multiple channels, it can afford to be omnipresent. For a technology company on a much smaller budget, however, you’ll need to choose your channels wisely.

Even though the internet media giant has the power to publish on every social media network imaginable, it chooses to focus the majority of its efforts on two platforms: Facebook and Pinterest. Why just these two? According to Dao, the company watched and tested, then tested and watched.

After discovering the two biggest traffic referrers, BuzzFeed tailored share opportunities to better meet those platforms’ user habits. For example, by adding a one-click pin button to all photos in stories, which enables users to instantly share images via their Pinterest boards, the company increased its share rate by 10 times.

As a SaaS company, you may assume you know which social media platform will yield you the largest amount of traffic—but are you sure? There’s only one way to find out, and that segues into my next point.

Use Data Whenever Possible

In the age of big data, there are dozens of tools for reviewing insights, measuring reach and determining your next best course of action. However, Dao warns against using one single metric to tell the whole story.

For example, instead of considering page traffic alone, BuzzFeed measures attention (the number of shares compared to the amount of time spent on page) as well as social lift (viral views divided by seed views, or a calculation that shows how many additional views were achieved through shares alone).

In some cases, the company discovered pieces relevant to only a small cross-section of their audience earn a higher social lift even if the traffic is comparatively low.

Data can help you see beyond views and page hits. For example, just because your recent blog post outlining the benefits of application security automation didn’t perform as well as a more general piece of content explaining why you need security automation doesn’t mean it’s not as successful. Targeting content toward one specific persona, rather than your entire audience, will likely resonate better and make a stronger impact—even if it’s seen by a smaller group.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Congratulations! You launched a successful campaign. Now if you repeat the same process, every single time, you’ll enjoy the same results. Right? Wrong. If marketing were that easy, I’d be jobless.

One of the primary reasons BuzzFeed is able to remain successful is because it never stops experimenting.

“BuzzFeed is a process,” says Dao. “It’s people making content, publishing it all over the internet, getting knowledge back about what works, and why, and how, and then doing it over and over again.”

As a professional in the technology industry, you know trying new methods, measuring response and making continuous improvements is key to a powerful product. The same holds true for your content marketing endeavors. Instead of exhausting the same tired process, try new things and measure the results. If you strike gold, use those same elements in your next campaign—but always be seeking new opportunities for improvement.

So, what can SaaS companies learn from BuzzFeed? By focusing on shareability, evoking emotion, publishing to the right channels, learning from data and experimenting regularly, you’re positioning yourself for content success.

Also, never underestimate the power of a black and blue dress.

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The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst for a web development and SEO company. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story. Outside of the office, Carrie enjoys live music, Tex-Mex, exploring the city with her husband and attempting to win the affections of her two terrible cats.
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