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Digital Marketing

Consumers Love Watermelons – The Genius of Buzzfeed

I attended many sessions at the MDMC conference in St. Louis, but the Buzzfeed session was the only one that was standing room only…and for good reason. Phil Cara, Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy at Buzzfeed shared the evolution of content marketing for 40 minutes and kept the audience engaged and entertained (of course) the entire time.
The session kicked off with a video about Unfortunately Ashly and the importance of video persisted throughout the entire session.

Is Buzzfeed the New CNN?

Most of us are familiar with the Buzzfeed brand, but what you may not know is that Buzzfeed is now the number one source of news for Millennials and recently was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting.
Almost all of their views (77%) are on mobile devices and in four years they went from 100 million content views a month to almost seven billion.
This happened because of their intense focus on video and a web of distribution that stretches across multiple social media platforms. They have a strong presence on Facebook, have the number one show (Worth It) on YouTube, and are popular on SnapChat.

“At our core, Buzzfeed is about making connection at scale.” – Phil Cara

Traditional content is created by a publisher and delivered to consumers. It’s one way.
Publishers create. Consumers consume.
Buzzfeed has changed that pattern completely. Digital today is all about feedback and that’s what makes Buzzfeed so successful.

Hello Feedback Loop

Buzzfeed sends out content and get signals back from viewers that enables them to make better content that they can then personalize for consumers. Not only do they have a feedback loop that helps them to create better content, but the users share the content as a form of social currency with their social circles. This allows them to create real human connection at scale.
The secret to Buzzfeed’s success is a secret that is available to everyone.
It’s data.

It’s All About That Data

Sorting through the data gives them very clear insight into what types of content has the potential to blow up.
Buzzfeed has 1600 employees in their company and about half of them create content.
Some content is editorial. Some is for brands. But content is absolutely at the heart of everything that Buzzfeed is, and social is the circulatory system that sends it out to the world. Through their app, their website, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and more, they take all of that content and push it out to the world.
How much content you ask? Over 600 pieces of content a day. Over the last ten years, they have created over 3 million pieces of content. Take that content and turn it into data and you have the knowledge to move from creating good content to creating extraordinary content.

Buzzfeed Knows How Much You Love Watermelons

It is part of their ethos to test and learn. And that is why the exploding watermelon was not a fluke. They’ve done a lot of content around food and they know that consumers LOVE watermelons (And now you know that too. Keep it tucked away for your next party.) The exploding watermelon video receive 800,000 concurrent views and is one of the most popular Facebook Live events ever with over 10 million total views.

Comments are Even More Valuable than Watermelons

When consumers share Buzzfeed content, what they write doesn’t go unnoticed. Their comments matter immensely to Buzzfeed and they use this feedback to create better and better content.
Buzzfeed has created the largest food network in the world in just 18 months with Tasty. By sharing food related content and reading their share statements, they determined that consumers just wanted to see the food. Not celebrities. Not great detail. Just the food. And Tasty was born.
In an average month, a half billion people watch a Tasty video.
Need a better visual?
That’s one out of every four Facebook users. The channel currently has over 81 million subscribers. Why is it so successful? Because the users are sharing it to connect more deeply with people they care about.
From a business perspective, Tasty is an amazing tool for brands. It’s engaging consumers and benefiting brands. That’s a win-win.
After this video posted, the grill sold out in one hour and was unavailable at Target for three days.
Buzzfeed currently has 200 million subscribers across all social platforms, but most of their time is spent on Facebook and YouTube. They are expanding into SnapChat and are launching some new things on Twitter.


Targeting is something that Buzzfeed does very well. They regularly gather information about what content you are consuming, how long you consumed it for and whether or not you shared it.
They do testing with content by putting a small amount of money behind it. If it does well, then they go all in. All headlines and thumbnails are A/B tested using their own proprietary tool. No campaigns are every launched without A/B testing.


The next shift they are seeing is a shift in creative. Humans still create it, but they are being heavily influenced by the signals that the audience is providing.
With over 3 million pieces of content already created, they have an enormous stockpile of data telling them what people like and what they don’t. They use a tool called Waldo that looks at all of the content they have produced and tags it by content type, audience and more. If a client comes in and wants to produce something that will reach a specific audience, they can do a search in Waldo and it will tell them what type of content is best for their needs. Machine learning is the next big shift in creative.

Connection is Superior to Connecting

The key to success is making a human connection. Not connectING, but connectION. The terms are very different.
A view means that you’ve seen something, but the amount of time the video was watched is where the connection is made. Real connections aren’t made in three seconds.

Measuring Success

After hundreds of branding studies, they have determined that views are far superior to impressions. Aditionally, organic news creates stronger value for brands. If you create content that consumers want to share, you get better branding. It’s more authentic.

Now What?

Now that you know the secret behind the Buzzfeed brand, you can start creating content that can help you do more than just connect…you can create content that creates connections.
As co-founder Jonah Peretti said:

“Let’s make something that people are proud to share. Let’s make something that people see and say, ‘This is going to be more fun with someone else.’”

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Sharon Suchoval

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