Ten things news brands can learn from Buzzfeed

by Niamh Kirk

Recent research shows that using Buzzfeed as a source of hard news is increasing. The website, which began life driving viral entertainment, has developed an approach to ‘doing news’ that is unique. But it is no longer entirely their own as legacy news brands mimic Buzzfeed’s style to syphon some of their success. However, as well as emulating their rival, copycats also serve to amplify Buzzfeed’s ‘brand identity by speaking in their voice.
For news brands seeking to attract new readers or to stop them from going elsewhere, there are ways of being inspired by Buzzfeed’s approach without diluting their own identity. So, what does Buzzfeed do that other brands can take heed of without, you know, taking it.


1 Casualization of language

Buzzfeed’s casual tone, use of slang, and incorporation of memes makes it one of the most creative spaces online for news. Its informality, while still meeting all the demands of journalism and reportage (5 W’s and an H, nutgrafs etc.) makes news more accessible. It highlights that news does not need to be delivered in stuffy and stoic language to be delivered effectively. And in doing so Buzzfeed has attracted younger readers that were traditionally averse to the drabness of hard-news-speak.

2 Visual hits that are effectively editorial

Buzzfeed tends to sign-off articles with a reaction gif that sort of doubles up as editorial. Although not suitable for every news story, gifs sum-up Buzzfeed’s views and the core audience response. Whether it is an irreverent eye-roll to a political gaff or a tongue in cheek OMG to the latest Kardashian news, the sign-off gif captures the chilled-out Buzzfeed mood.

3 Layout

Many other titles have already adopted Buzzfeedesque articles but they often also have glary adverts. Because of the native advertising model there is rarely any annoying pop-ups or  banner advertising. Ad blockers are common and increasing in popularity but the integrated advertorial slips under ad blockers and is usually well signposted. Critics of advertorials say that they are too inclined to be mistaken for news as well as complaints that the relationship between advertisers and news producer becomes a little too cosy. Advertorials are nothing new, they are and always were common in print. Every funding model in journalism is problematic and introduces relationships that would best not be there. Native advertising is a lot less invasive and irritating than other models.

4 Audience participation

Buzzfeed invites the audience in with user-generated content (UGC). As a result, an audience gets a strong sense of its own dynamics by seeing the witticisms and responses of its peers to topical news. This use of UGC for highlighting responses to news events enhances the audiences’ role and enhances participation in international discourse.

5 Highlighting subcultures and focusing on beats

Buzzfeed celebrates subcultures and covers these beats well. Tackling issues from LGBT, race and representation, cultural privilege and even religion, minority issues are well represented in Buzzfeed. Because of this it often draws out angles and perspectives in mainstream stories that other titles overlook and looks at wider stories through a lens that is sensitive to the needs of minority groups.

6 The homepage is influenced by popularity

The virally driven homepage highlights stories that might otherwise be missed. It might be a non-news listicle but then it might be an old interview or feature that hasn’t reached its conclusion yet. It gives the fun articles that are not time sensitive longevity in the news cycle and keeps stories that run over a long period of time on the agenda. And it means that the audience is an active participant in raising news in salience.

7 Doing (great) Data Journalism

So good it won a data journalism award in 2016 for the Spies in the Skies investigation . But that was far from their only one. Buzzfeed’s data journalism is exceptional, the visuals are beautiful and the complex analysis of large data sets is unpacked and illustrated elegantly. You don’t need a background in statistics to get to grips with it. It reads like an investigation as opposed to genuine research like some of the more in-depth and data-heavy projects.

8 Awesome investigations into off-beat topics

Buzzfeed had already undertaken some fascinating investigations when James Ball from the Guardian joined the team, and then things only got better. Although Buzzfeed began life as a viral aggregator their move into news and investigations has had a big impact.

9 Connecting the global fandom

Fans of TV shows like Game of Thrones, Daredevil, Orange is the New Black and (Netflix shows in general) can go to Buzzfeed pretty soon after each episode for an unpack and a natter. It’s watching, reading and commenting as part of a global community and cheers to that!

10 Representing global cultures

With 12 editions from India to Mexico, Buzzfeed has a strong global presence and, in the US and UK editions represents a wider range of cultures and concerns than most national media can manage. Whether it is the experience of Ramadan around the globe or women campaigns in India, Buzzfeed breaks down barriers to understanding current affairs in other nations and regions. And with the focus on certain beats, it means the audience gets insights that go beyond political and economic headlines.


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