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You Won’t Believe How This Entertainment Agency Got So Successful

BuzzFeed—a multi-million dollar entertainment agency—is a name not unfamiliar to most social media connoisseurs. With a significant monopoly over the Facebook and Youtube spheres of American and worldwide entertainment, BuzzFeed has established a trademark that is unmistakable and impossible to miss—clickbait heavy articles, relatable posts, and several marvellously insignificant headlines, such as 19 Things Worse Than Finding Out That Beyoncé Lip-Synched The National Anthem.  With mindless listicles running rampant on Facebook feeds, the prioritisation of quantity over quality has led to a steady, and somewhat predictable, decline in BuzzFeed’s popularity among the general online population. However, the change in marketing tactics over the years might be algorithms worth looking into.

A 2014 article by Contently described in detail how BuzzFeed exploits the emotional psychology of fast and slow thinking. They use fast thinking to keep readers intrigued by their posts. The general format is large text in a simple language and bright pictures, thus increasing the time spent per post, share-ability, and probability of a reader to return to the site. This algorithm, involving minimal cognitive exercise and time provides a refreshing three-minute break to the reader. This helps them generate maximum revenue from the large multitude of posts, with many of them containing sponsored content as well.

A comparison of an article by The NYT (top), which utilises slow thinking, with an article by Buzzfeed (bottom).

Also evident to the common eye is the casual clickbait in the article’s headline and the extra emphasis on trending topics appealing to the teenage demographic. Though the general consensus on BuzzFeed’s overwhelming presence is more or less negative, experts believe that this strategy might have made BuzzFeed an undercover marketing mastermind. According to an article in The Guardian, BuzzFeed has been ranked as the “most social” publisher on Facebook, having the most shared content online.

BuzzFeedVideo and its other flagship Youtube channels were among the first to start the trend of short, quirky, and relatable videos that soon spread across other entertainment channels as well as local media agencies all over the world. Another factor that garnered the involvement of the audience was the creation of relatable characters through such videos and following their lives—giving the company more video opportunities to quickly gain views and attention. For example, many videos are centred on characters like Ashly, Sara, and Quinta—BuzzFeed’s video producers-turned-actors. Several of these characters would also get into make-believe relationships as a part of a larger narrative.

Of course, BuzzFeedVideo had a golden era as well. Alongside short relatable skits, BuzzFeed also used to address more serious issues like political discourse and social commentaries.  This came in the form of short films with beautiful cinematography and a well-written script. Some of their popular scripted content was on the complexities of romantic relationships, especially focusing on the LGBTQ+ community. If one were to go by commenters on these videos, this was the peak of BuzzFeed’s quality content. However, with the growth of social media and the eruption of viral trending videos, the competition of maintaining a strong Youtube presence came with different necessities.

Over the recent years, BuzzFeed shifted away from scripted content, with the mainstream channel mass-producing seemingly random videos to stay on trend or to address social issues. This shift did not work well in their favour in terms of popularity among the masses, as the company began to take flak for allegedly being “pseudo-feminist”, having double standards, and earning the reputation of running out of ideas. Some of BuzzFeed’s most disliked sit-down videos like ‘People Try Drinking Their Own Pee For The First Time’, ‘Women Paint With Their Period Blood’, or ‘We Tried Manspreading For A Week’ raised several questions and caused them to be branded as man-hating and ridiculous, created only for the sake of controversy, and accused their content of being fodder for Social Justice Warriors.

Their reputation fell through even more due to a large number of their popular video producers (and characters) leaving the company. For example, Safiya Nygaard, founder of their popular series Ladylike, Michelle Khare, and Chris Reinacher were all popular characters from their scripted content who went on to have their own successful Youtube channels after leaving BuzzFeed. The company also lost a huge audience when members of the popular series The Try Guys, left the company to start branding on their own. The influx of “Why I Left Buzzfeed” videos following this provided an insight to the public about the shift in content, where the creators explained their reasons for leaving, which for the larger part were due to restricted creative license, lack of transparency to the audience, and having no ownership over their created content.

However, even with the apparent drop in quality and reputation, BuzzFeed does have numerous popular series with consistent popularity. For example, the series Ladylike and Worth It. BuzzFeed Unsolved, a series created by Ryan Bergara on BuzzFeedBlue, is objectively the most successful in terms of views and engagement, with Ryan and fellow producer Shane Madej investigating unsolved crime mysteries as well as ghosthunting in some episodes. Tasty, the official food network of BuzzFeed, also became a huge success for the company, winning the Shorty Award for Best Food in 2017. The company’s branching-out into news and investigation has also proved very successful in the recent years, with BuzzFeed News being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.

No matter how many blows the company may take, BuzzFeed still has a lot to its name. The hidden marketing strategies and content creation, however unpopular in the public eye, reflect success in the growth numbers, with BuzzFeed attaining over 7 billion views monthly as of today. Keeping the tremendous traffic acquired over such content in mind, can we really blame the creators for producing content the people themselves are quick to consume?