BuzzFeed’s success on social media explained

BuzzFeed content using identity to propel sharing on social media

BuzzFeed content using identity to propel sharing on social media

Identity is at the heart of how BuzzFeed uses social media to distribute its content, so says Ze Frank, President of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

The video below is worth a watch because it’s a record of Ze Frank talking about BuzzFeed’s approach to using social media as a distribution tool for content. He expands upon how they use the idea of content as a popular form of self expression. He talks about identity as a propellant on social media.

He says: “one way is to look at the statements that people use when sharing a piece of media… and you start to see patterns emerge – and one which is particularly interesting to us is the notion of identity”.

“You can then be very reductive about the notion of identity. There’s geographic identity, genetic identity (left-handedness, red-haired-ness etc), sexual identity, gender-based identity, culture of origin identity… and it goes on and on and on.

“And you can literally just map those out and start testing them, and try them and see if you’re right. At present we’re making 35 short-form videos a week… and each one of them comes from one of these lines of argument… and the best approach is to use data and gut in a fluid way.”

Watch the video here:

More words of wisdom from Ze Frank:

“Content exists within a massive ecosystem, and this is the difference between structuralist and post-structuralist – that’s at the core of the discussion.

“That’s the difference between thinking of media as this perfect encapsulation that you hand to other people and you want them to experience it like you intended it to be experienced.

“The post-structuralist idea – Roland Barthe death of an author – Susan Sontag “on ‘Camp'” – and there’s a beautiful essay called on the Creative Act by Duchamp – where there’s this period in the 50s where they’re like: “oh my gosh, the audience like matters – like holy crap – they’re not perceiving it in the same way that we’re intending it?” and there was this, all of a sudden, fracturing in the relationship between the author and the media.

“The point being content exists in a very very complex ecosystem. So what I would suggest is that the mechanism which has come into its own over the last 15 years – which is social – and mobile more recently – is people sharing content with other people. If you can figure that out, you have this amazing resource in having to spend less money for things to go big, and a lot of people to see them.

“So, here’s the question – why do some things share better than others? Why does some content spread better than others? Why do people opt-in to share some content over others?

“I would argue that maybe content has different kinds of usage – we use it in different ways. The one that has dominated the story of media is consumption. We have it, we consume it, it makes us feel good – like really good – and it overwhelms us. It maybe psychically replaces us for a certain amount of time – we give ourselves over to it.

“If you think about that, if you think about going into a movie theatre and that amazing experience you can have – really transformative – to the point where you are crying – and you are in the process of actually saying maybe I should ride a motorcycle through the Andes by myself. There’s this moment where you’ve so given yourself over and then the movie ends and you and the person you came with shuffle out and you hit that broad daylight and you’re like “where the f*** am I?” Life hits you and it’s not so beautifully orchestrated – the sound is all off – and there’s this big disassociation and you shuffle in silence with this person and they turn to you and they say “did you like it?” and you say “yeah” – and that’s it right?

The Picard Facepalm - not a piece of "consumable" media

The Picard Facepalm – not a piece of “consumable” media

“You might have a little bit more if you went with a film nerd, you might have some kind of effete conversation about “I think they were very referential blah blah blah”, but if you think about the mismatch between the experiential component and the way one talks about that experiential component, its very much a personal experience and the depth of the personal experience is very hard and vulnerable to communicate to other people.

“Let’s say that was consumptive media. The second one might be that we use media more and more now as a proxy for conversation with one another we actually use it to converse – and the simplest forms are emoji. You’re now using images to convey different types of emotion. Animated gifs are another form of that – which are quite powerful and you can start to see that media can have this incredible usage where it is conveying some kind of social intent, and in fact, absent of the social intent it has no meaning.

“I think of Captain Picard facepalming. That’s not a piece of consumable media, you would never hang that on your wall and yet it’s incredibly effective at communicating the deepest level – of embracing – how radically stupid people can be. If you drop your iPhone in the toilet you can write paragraphs and paragraphs and not be able to convey that.”

See also

How to create social media campaigns, and content, that gets shared

Elsewhere

How Individual Identity Influences The Way Audiences Share

An updated version of the Ze Frank conversation, for 2015 (although the format seems designed to seek out conflict between the guest from established studios and Ze Frank from “the web” – which is a bit silly. Uses phrases such as the garden (consumable media – “traditional” format films etc) and the stream (BuzzFeed video that is built for social sharing etc). Interesting to note that BuzzFeed is now creating 50 videos per week (up from 35 in 2014). And they talk about the iterative approach to content creation…


“But the stories that go furthest on social platforms don’t merely treat users’ identities as a context, they’re more explicitly about identity. And one of the less-appreciated ways to render news in identity terms, after straightforward advocacy, is through explainers. The new explainers are well adapted to feeds: they assert authority without invoking expertise; they mimic the language of their audience; they offer closure and satisfaction in an endless stream. They’re also easy to deploy in a social context. Social explainers often purport to do work for you—to settle arguments, to articulate your position for you, to establish your rightness or to definitively assert your opponent’s wrongness.”

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10 Responses to BuzzFeed’s success on social media explained

  1. Ciaran Ryan February 24, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    This article also touches on the use of identity to generate outrage, to encourage sharing: observer.com/2015/02/exclusive-how-this-left-wing-activist-manipulates-the-media-to-spread-his-message/

  2. Ciaran Ryan March 10, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    And identity is key to the success of the @SoVeryBritish Twitter account. E.g: twitter.com/SoVeryBritish/status/572848535441440768

  3. Ciaran Ryan March 22, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    See also: twitter.com/MedievalReacts – helping people to communicate, express themselves in an amusing manner.

  4. Ciaran Ryan April 24, 2015 at 2:50 am #

    I need to write another round-up post about identity, but for now, here’s Paul Mason:

    “The sociologists Manuel Castells and Barry Wellman each noticed early on that the impact of the network society was not just on behaviour but on the conception of the self… because their being is plugged into other “beings” and ideas have become the “material” of their existence.”

    “It’s the technology they use that shapes their consciousness: they communicate across multiple platforms; they use multiple personas and they have weak organisational loyalty.”

    newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4864/who-is-eleni-haifa

  5. Ciaran Ryan May 19, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    A couple of links:

    “What makes video go viral in emerging markets?”
    martinbelam.com/2015/qznextbillion-cat-jones-viral-video/

    &

    the Unruly-Periodic-Table-of-Sharing.png

    zazzlemedia.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Unruly-Periodic-Table-of-Sharing.png

  6. Ciaran Ryan July 17, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    Expressive (social media) v consumptive media.

    Good quote: “People forget that social media is just what you want people to see”

    washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/07/16/how-moms-won-the-internet-and-what-that-means-for-the-rest-of-us/

  7. Ciaran Ryan July 23, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    Here’s a good example of using people’s need to express their identities, to propel social sharing:

    “Irish name pronounced how it’s written” on thedailymash.co.uk
    (26 thousand shares on Facebook & something I can relate to).

    It’s amusing but also lets the sharer express something about their heritage or perhaps relations with a colleague.

    thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/irish-name-pronounced-how-its-written-2014071888688

  8. Ciaran Ryan August 17, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    Re: Expressive (social media) v consumptive media. Pre digital: If Consumptive is a movie, then Expressive can be a birthday card.

  9. Ciaran Ryan January 22, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

    Spotify gets it. One of their taglines is: “lost for words? Share a song”.

    In the UK 2/3 of internet users are on Facebook (if I remember rightly).

    As most of us run out of things to say, many of us will let you put your (lightly branded) messages into our staus updates if you’ll help us to express ourselves.

  10. Ciaran Ryan February 18, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    Re: “Signs you were raised by immigrant parents.” on Buzzfeed:
    It had the sticker at the end that made you want to share it with someone. When you share it then it makes you look good because you’re making fun of your parents and laughing with your siblings, or sharing with your boyfriend or girlfriend, “This is my life,” but also, “I love my parents.”
    fastcompany.com/3055894/most-innovative-companies/what-buzzfeeds-dao-nguyen-knows-about-data-intuition-and-the-futur