Buzzfeed: my biggest buzzes – what makes content go viral?

August 5, 2014

I’ve worked on a range of content for the site this summer and it’s always fascinating to see what takes off – and what doesn’t.

Seems readers can’t get enough of booze; ‘Best British pubs‘ racked up over 350,000 views in the first week, attracting 40,000 Facebook shares and 500 engagements on Twitter.

While the shares and comments on the site are impressive, the buzz that viral pieces generate is unbelievable. There have been 15,000 likes for that piece on Facebook itself and 17,661 comments. Months later, it’s still showing ‘social lift’ (which tracks the virality of a piece) of 9.3x – which means that for every “seed view” (ie, view on the site), it’s generating 9 social views (on Facebook, Twitter and the like).

Referrers to British pubs piece

It’s amazing to write for a place where less than 100,000 views is a bit of a disappointment, and my article on delightful English towns racked up 165,000 views in 48 hours while the piece on medieval combat did 200,000+ in the first weekend.

These runaway successes tend to overshadow the medium-sized posts, which see about 30,000 – 80,000 views, numbers that aren’t at all bad by most publishers’ standards. ‘Signs you grew up in Bristol in the ’90s and ‘how to spend the perfect weekend in Bristol’ did 47,000 views each in their opening weekend. ‘Struggles everyone who’s been in an unsigned band will understand’, meanwhile, clocked in at 42,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Pilgrimages for cheese lovers in the UK’ flopped spectacularly, only seeing a paltry 11,000 views. During my NME days, though, that would have been a triumph, and a recent post pointed out that 66% of Upworthy’s articles don’t break the 20,000 mark.

What have we learnt?

  • Inspirational travel ideas work well
  • Regional identity works well
  • Regional identity + nostalgia = WIN
  • People use their choice of shared content to define themselves and their views
  • Emotional resonance is vital
The New York Times broke down their most emailed stories into four categories: awe-inspiring, emotional, positive and surprising.
I’ve always thought people assume the role of publisher when they share; they take ownership of the piece, and broadcast it to their own followers just like Buzzfeed or the BBC do. They feel obliged to entertain and inform their friends.
Working out which social network you’re catering to, and whether the users are at home on a tablet or waiting for a bus on a phone, are also really important. As is fine tuning the headline, sell and featured image. At the end of the day, though, if you’re enjoying making something, someone will enjoy reading it. You just need to remember, through umpteen hours of photo editing, Flickr browsing, gif-making, HTML-adding toil, how the idea appealed to you when you first thought of it.

How it does when set in the wild depends on the mood and whims of the internet. You’ve just got to hazard a guess as to its collective appetite that day. My best advice? Steer clear of the cheese.


Buzzfeed: my biggest buzzes – what makes content go viral? Buzzfeed: my biggest buzzes – what makes content go viral?
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