Thought Leadership
BuzzFeed on Taking a Platform-Agnostic Approach to Branded Content

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Nick Willis
Branded Distribution Lead – EMEA
BuzzFeed

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BuzzFeed is known in the digital advertising industry as the pioneer in platform-­agnostic native advertising, where branded content / sponsored posts can be delivered to BuzzFeed audiences regardless of platform, channel, and device, owned or off­-property. Where did the seed of this initial thought come from, and how has it evolved into it’s current incarnation today?

The vision for our cross platform approach came from understanding the changes in how we consume media. As user behaviour moves away from single platform content consumption, and towards a diversified platform approach, content owners are being pulled towards a more holistic distribution strategy.

BuzzFeed’s test and learn approach to new platforms has meant that we’re able to build audiences, and best practices across a significant platform ecosystem. As our content adapts to trending topics, so too does our approach to each platform.

 

Beyond video views, what are some key metrics that BuzzFeed uses internally to measure the success of a Video Distribution campaign for a brand?

With a slew of video metrics available in the market, it’s easy to get distracted by superficial video stats. We always focus on quality video views, ensuring maximum brand impact on whichever video platform we’re utilising. The core metrics we optimise towards include: 10 second views, 30 second views, average view duration, and % completion rate.

 

What does a typical platform­ agnostic campaign with BuzzFeed look like? (eg. website sponsored post, mobile app & web sponsored post, native video on facebook, instagram and twitter sponsored post, etc)

Our cross platform approach comes across in every campaign we deliver. Each distribution strategy incorporates a number of ad placements across our owned and operated network (bf.com, mobile apps, mobile web), along with our extensive reach across each social platform (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube amongst others).

The key to achieving success across so many platforms is ensuring the content is relevant to the user, and feels native on each individual platform.

 

What are some up and coming social platforms that most may not know about, and what are some tips to best leverage them for distribution?

With our significant international growth, we’re looking towards a number of local platforms which often have stronger monthly active user figures than the more popular social channels. For example in China, WeChat and QZone have great audience penetration, whereas in Russia, VK is a strong platform.

Our continuous test and learn approach means that we’re always keen to try new platforms, and further extend our cross platform reach.

 

How does BuzzFeed approach distributing branded content across video platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and YouTube? Are there nuances in the audiences on each of these video platforms?

Absolutely! We’re finding that each platform has it’s own strengths/weaknesses, and is tailored towards specific content and audiences. For example, we’re distributing a lot of short form content across Vine, Instagram, and Facebook ­ whereas YouTube is a great destination for longer form content. Equally, the millennial audience has a high propensity to use platforms like Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram, but may be less inclined to consume content on Pinterest or YouTube.

With these nuances in each platform, we’re focusing on how we tailor our content and audience activation based on client goals. Through our close relationship with our editorial team, we’re constantly learning about these nuances, and how they affect our approach to content creation and distribution.

 

Do you think there will ever be a point at which Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and other video platforms will add pre­-roll videos across all video­­ how do you think that will affect the Branded Video Content consumption by consumers?

Yes, I do think there will be a time when other social platforms will start experimenting with pre-roll, as YouTube has done, so successfully. I think the primary driver for success in this area is the impact it has on the user experience. We’ve kept certain policies in place internally to ensure that the consumption of our video content is not impacted by an intrusive non skippable ad.

We’ve seen that giving the publisher more control over this experience tends to yield higher video completion rates.

 

Facebook recently announced that it would open up Instant Articles to all publishers come April of this year, with BuzzFeed stating that it was “All In” and the New York Times being more cautious about the strategic move. BuzzFeed seems to always be at the forefront of adopting the latest technologies and distribution techniques — why do you think this is the case?

I think this comes back to an earlier point I made, where our whole approach to content and distribution is to test and learn and reach audiences where they are. With such a diverse and multi­faceted editorial team, we have the ability to try new formats, takes risks with content, and strike up relationships with emerging platforms. This approach allows us to develop best practices and identify the platform/audience nuances previously mentioned.

Taking these learnings and delivering them to our clients ensures we stay at the forefront of content marketing.

 

How do you think publishers at large will react once Facebook makes Instant Articles available to all on April 12th?

I think most publishers will jump at the opportunity to use this format, and we’ll see a shift towards a more cross platform distribution approach.. As the user becomes more acutely aware of loading times, and other platforms refine their mobile experience (Google AMP), it will be up to the publisher to ensure they are optimising their approach.

 

Are there any tips for In­Feed social ad optimization that you can share with our audience?

Ensure that your content, distribution, and audience align with your campaign goals. Where necessary, tailor your approach based on the platform you’re utilising, and move away from a templated approach to each platform. Each have their own strengths with targeting, optimisation, and audience development, so make sure you’re leveraging the full strength of the platform you choose.

 

BuzzFeed famously does no programmatic advertising, and garners most of it’s revenue from branded content and sponsored posts by brands. Where do you see the market heading for programmatic?

Programmatic is really the foundation of the modern advertising landscape, and has allowed advertisers to fully leverage the power of optimised distribution. We’re constantly building new technology which allows us to better understand how content is distributed and shared across platform, and programmatic buying aligns very closely with this.

As the landscape evolves, I would anticipate programmatic buying being the industry norm, as brands focus on where they can achieve the highest ROI. With the increasing ability to track the user throughout the sales cycle, and measure attribution at a content level, we’ll see programmatic technologies become even more sophisticated.

Aside from this, I’d expect to see optimisation strategies improve as we understand more about the external factors affecting the user journey, giving us the ability to auto optimise towards our most cost effective path to conversion.

 

BuzzFeed may not be affected by ad blocking due to the types of native ads you serve, but many others in the industry (especially technology ­oriented and gaming sites) have to deal with it on a daily basis. How do you see the ad blocking quandary we are in playing out over the next few years?

I often compare ad blockers to the paywalls that several publishers currently implement. The core message here is that good editorial content comes at a price, and if the user doesn’t feel the content is worth this price, then both stand to lose out. Both publishers, and consumers, dislike intrusive ads ­ to the publisher, it sacrifices their editorial integrity and can slow down their load times, and to the user, it promotes a negative overall experience. The way that the industry approaches this dilemma will shape the future success of publishers.

Our approach to this is to focus on how can we keep the user experience as natural as possible, whilst working with brands to improve their overall content strategy. By focusing on native in everything that we do, we’re able to craft content that deserves to live in the feed, instead of forcing content down the consumer’s throat.

 

Lastly, what do you see as the future of branded content, native advertising, and sponsored posts as it pertains to distributed audiences? Do you see other larger, and even niche publishers following suit?

How a brand approaches content development and aligns it with their distribution strategy has never been so important. We are at a place in time now where we know which type of content is resonating with which type of user, on each individual platform ­ all in real time. The ability for brands/publishers to lock in these audience pools, compile these learnings, and leverage this across each distribution channel, will ultimately separate the winners from the losers.

 


 

BuzzFeed is an international news and entertainment company that attracts 200M+ monthly unique visitors monthly. BuzzFeed covers breaking news, produces original video, and creates content that people want to share on the web.

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