Buzzfeed-style “listicles,” embedded GIFs and content scrubbed from social media are now ubiquitous in online media, not only on competing sites like the Huffington Post but also on traditionally hard news sources like the CBC.
Now Buzzfeed is set to go global, bringing its vision of web content to places like the U.K. and Australia, countries where it has already launched, and India, Germany and Japan, where it’s set to launch later this year.
This week the man charged with bringing Buzzfeed’s content philosophy to the rest of the world, vice president, international, Scott Lamb, will speak at North By North East Interactive in Toronto.
Ahead of his talk, Marketing spoke to Lamb about rapid growth, market selection and how French Canada caught the site by surprise.
Here are five lessons he’s learned so far from the expansion:
Grow a social presence early
Social media is integral to the Buzzfeed operation. In fact, Lamb said shareability is the very essence of the Buzzfeed story. “Regardless of where it’s published or what the topic is, the thing we always look for is that there’s something in the story that’s a spark people will want to share,” he says.
Because of this, Buzzfeed bakes social into its plan for every new market. In the case of India, which is expected to launch later this year, the media company already had Facebook and Twitter accounts that share content geared towards India readers, developing an audience even before the Buzzfeed India homepage goes live.
Culturally rich cities produce good content
When selecting markets to enter, Lamb said Buzzfeed “looks at traffic, but is much more focused on finding interesting, global and culturally rich cities.” Though Lamb said the company considers whether the market could generate revenue once established, he said the main guideline is “Where can we go to make interesting stuff and hire a really good time?”
Follow the numbers
When Buzzfeed launched its French-language edition, it expected most of the traffic to come from France. Once it was up, almost a third (30%) came from French Canadians. “It was our ignorance, and it caught us a little by surprise, to see how many readers we were getting in Canada.”
To satisfy that audience, Lamb said Buzzfeed now serves French Canadians with translated content that’s closer to what English Canadians see. “We’d spent a lot of time editing and sometimes, in lists, swapping out images to do references a French reader would get. We totally missed the point that’s somewhat alienating to a French Canadian audience,” he said.
Adapt to local taste
In the U.S., Buzzfeed’s coverage of internet trends and celebrity gossip is supplemented with harder hitting political stories by journalists in Washington, D.C. When Buzzfeed U.K. launched, the plan was to follow a similar path and hire a storied political blogger as the company had done with Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
Instead, Lamb said the company took advice from its British editor and went with more satirical coverage – a style that would appeal to Brits. “That direction has done really well,” Lamb said. “The point of view isn’t the serious, heavy, day-to-day insider reporting we do now in Washington, D.C. It has a much lighter touch.”
Cute and fuzzy isn’t for everyone
Another lesson Buzzfeed learned in France: not everyone likes cute and fuzzy. Or they do, but they’re not willing to admit it. Lamb said French readers might click on a heartwarming post like 28 Incredibly Touching Photos Of Fathers Seeing Their Babies For The First Time, but they likely won’t share it on Facebook or Twitter; the main way Buzzfeed posts spread.
Instead, it shifted gears and put more focus into covering public discourse, inserting itself into big cultural conversations on race, class and politics – content French readers are more likely to share.
Grow editorial, then sales
When it enters a new market, Buzzfeed starts small, hiring three to five editors and writers. If that team is able to grow traffic, Lamb said the company will pour more resources in.
In the U.K., where Buzzfeed launched in March, 2013, has hired a “creative team” to create ads for the site that will appeal to locals. “If we’re going to go forward with social ad content and native ads in new markets, in the same way we hired an editorial team, we’ll need to hire creative teams.”