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BuzzFeed, the US media company valued at a whopping US$850 million just sent its first envoy to Indonesia. Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed’s VP for international, made an appearance today at Social Media Week Jakarta 2015 and also participated in a discussion at the @America venue at Pacific Place Mall.

BuzzFeed focuses on content created specifically to be shared on social media, and its team has built sophisticated mechanisms in order to become experts on what does well on these channels.

Here are some insights from Lamb into BuzzFeed’s operations that are useful not only to media startups, but to anyone who relies on social media as a marketing tool.

1. Mindset


Lamb points out that it’s important to think of content that does well on social media in a different way than you’ think about any other content. Unlike news or celebrities, highly sharable content is often something you would never search for – because you didn’t even know it existed. To illustrate his point, Lamb showed the image above, which received a lot of attention on BuzzFeed. Who would think of searching for a photo of running Basset Hounds?

Another way to think about content that people like to share is framing it as a gift, said Lamb. A beautiful set of scenic photos or even cute animals is something people want to send to brighten up each others’ days.

Content that includes aspects of identity also does well in the social sphere. To illustrate how identity factors in, Lamb showed a picture of a school classroom full of rows of identical seats created for right-handed people. This is content left-handed people can relate to in a special way. It’s likely to be shared by people who are friends with a left-handed person, or by left-handed people to their left-handed friends.

2. Find the right editors and then let them do their stuff. Humans are the best content filters

BuzzFeed has a very “hands-off” attitude towards its editors, Lamb explained. There are no lengthy editorial meetings where themes are defined or topics assigned. BuzzFeed taps into the personality and creativity of their editors and lets them find their particular voice.

There are also no fixed content resources the editors are requested to draw from. Lamb considers humans to be the best content filters and says BuzzFeed actually relies on the fact that its editors prefer different information resources, which helps keep their own content fresh.

3. Very scientific

BuzzFeed is very scientific about how it works with content. Lamb showed images of its highly specialized platform, built to work with social content, from which writers have access to a dashboard that shows the lifetime and performance of their posts. The publishing back-end also allows editors to do their own A/B testing, running various headlines against each other among random readers before making their final pick on the right headline.

While not every startup can replicate a custom approach like this and probably doesn’t need to, basic principles of a scientific approach to content should be considered. Which posts perform best and why? Which platform works best for you? Who is most likely to share? Lamb said BuzzFeed treats every post like a mini experiment. So should you.

4. Push the most successful stuff, let the rest go


While there still isn’t a formula to guarantee viral success, Lamb has one good piece of advice on this: look at the early performance of a post. If it has particularly high traction, single it out and push it as much as you can. This means other posts will get less attention, but that’s okay. One viral success is potentially worth more than many moderately successful ones.

5. Continue expanding to new but related ventures


BuzzFeed is applying what it has learned – and gained – from its core platform to new but related ventures. The team has launched BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed Life and, most recently, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Lamb suggested thinking about dedicated content categories as a single network, integrated into the main site, to avoid creating content “silos”.

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