How to Make Your Branded Content as Likeable as a Kitten

Think you have top-quality content? Maybe you do. But that isn't enough, according to Jonah Peretti.

"Quality helps, but quality isn't enough," the BuzzFeed  founder and CEO told more than 600 marketers at Lithium's recent LiNC conference in San Francisco. "Making shareable content is an art and a science."

And Peretti's got the numbers to prove it. At a time when most media organizations are struggling, Buzzfeed reaches 130 million people a month, putting it in the same league and MTV and CNN. And where do those people come from? The vast majority come from links on social networks.

Social and Mobile

"Over 75 percent of the traffic on BuzzFeed comes from people seeing something and saying 'I want to share this on Facebook, on Twitter, on social platforms,'" he said. " Over 60 percent of our traffic is now on mobile, which means people are consuming media increasingly on mobile devices."

The secret in getting those kinds of numbers rests not only in the content but in using data to determine what content is going to get the most shares. Think about all those cats and dogs on Facebook. Peretti argues the reason people share images of their pets in social media is because it shares a personal moment.

"People are able to connect with each other," he said. "They're able to feel the same emotion at the same time even if they're not in the same physical space. That allows people to feel closer to each other."

That thinking applies to branded content as much as news, entertainment and human interest stories at BuzzFeed. And the company requires its advertisers to cross the same threshold.

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"We have this approach of holding brands to a higher standard, where they have to make content that is worth clicking and worth sharing," he said. "They can't just put a banner on our site."

For example, he said, Toyota pitched its hybrid Prius cars with a list of the 20 coolest hybrid animals, replete with pictures of Beefalos and Ligers. "This is the kind of thing Toyota wouldn't have done a few years earlier, but every brand has to learn to speak the language of the web. I think of a Venn diagram of your brand's message and what people are going to share. You look at that overlap."

Virgin Mobile came up with a list of 10 movie plots that would have been radically changed if the actors had cell phone. "Die Hard would have been a much shorter movie," noted Peretti.

Words and Numbers

Of course, all that is the easy part. Analyzing data is where it gets really interesting. And analyzing data is "something creative people ought to be excited about," he said.

For example, two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, Peretti's team observed that users were searching for feel-good stories. So Buzzfeed published a story about a disabled boy whose parents transformed his wheelchair to an ice cream truck as a Halloween. costume.

"We don't just look at our headline. We look at what people say when they're sharing the content. In this case, they were saying 'I needed this today,'" he said. "It was serving a particular emotional purpose in their lives when there was a tragedy in the world."

In the Moment

The timeliness of content is also a big factor. "Everyone is experiencing something at the same time and they want to be part of it," said Peretti. "So this is a really great strategy -- publishing things that really play into the zeitgeist."

Peretti, who began his work in new media at the MIT Media Lab years ago, is optimistic about the potential for media companies in the future.

"I think we're really starting to see the beginning of a new generation of media companies that take advantage of the huge shift in media consumption to mobile and social, and use that to build a new kind of company for the way people consume media today as opposed to the way people consumed media 10 years ago," he said.

Of course, a cute picture of a kitty probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Title image by Asa Aarons / all rights reserved.