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How BuzzFeed Became So Popular

Melody Madhavan
Melody Madhavan
December 17, 2015
2 min read
How BuzzFeed Became So Popular

BuzzFeed has a top 40 Alexa ranking in the USA and is literally one of the more shared websites in the world.

You’re bored, and you’ve spent hours on an essay that doesn’t seem to be finishing anytime soon. You want to take a break and procrastinate a little.

So you head to Facebook, and start clicking on fun links that your friends are sharing – the link you click is very likely going to be a BuzzFeed article.

How did BuzzFeed become the enormous, influential website it is now, coming from behind and overtaking all sorts of traditional media sites?

1. Turns out that people really like quizzes with results they can share on social media


BuzzFeed's quizzes are incredibly successful. Quizzes like 'Which Hogwarts House do you belong to?', or the immensely popular 'What city should you live in?' function as great discussion fodder for friends. People compare answers, they freak out when they don't get the results they want, and predict what their friends will get. It naturally generates a huge amount of engagement between users.

Traditional media generally deems quizzes to be superficial, but it sure gets people talking, and Buzzfeed has made sure to tap into that. The quizzes have been attacked and parodied, but that probably means that they're here to stay.

2. The content is designed "social/mobile-first", making it easy to access and easy to read


BuzzFeed thrives because of big headlines, easy-to-read numbered listicles, cute gifs and bite-sized content.

Compared to traditional media (newspapers, full-length articles), which are generally clunkier, BuzzFeed is like trivia - the articles are fun and easy to read, and maybe you’ll learn a fact or two from it.

3: BuzzFeed is happy to use lots of animated GIFs, which convey lots of information easily


An important part of making articles easy to read is the huge amount of GIFs and pictures that accompany the text. Many of Buzzfeed's listicles have simple premises like "10 things you feel when it's Sunday night", but the hilarious usage of reaction gifs makes the most unique and most importantly, relatable.

Bonus points when they're used creatively in a different context, or connects to some major pop-culture reference!

By being willing to embrace animated GIFs (which many other reputable institutions consider unprofessional), BuzzFeed makes content that leapfrogs over others in terms of immediate gratification.

4. Community-driven content gets lots of people personally invested in making the site successful


Although BuzzFeed has full-time reporters and content creators, many of its popular articles are generated from the community. This phenomenon is particularly unique to BuzzFeed – traditional media prides itself on carefully curated material, but Buzzfeed laps up content from everywhere.

Allowing readers to contribute content makes their content messier and sometimes unpredictable, but gives them more chances at stumbling upon something that strikes a nerve and goes viral.

While traditional media is generally forced to make the most of every column inch, BuzzFeed is happy to create long-tail content that not everybody reads, as well as content that's trendy in the short term.

6. It’s even hyper-localized to cater to communities all around the world, including translations in French, Spanish and German


From BuzzFeed India to BuzzFeed UK, BuzzFeed has grown to be such a phenomenon that it has even been localised and adapted for different countries.

This makes content a lot more relatable and context-specific for larger communities of BuzzFeed users, allowing them to personalise their experience and allow it's users to explore pop-culture from the lenses of their own communities.

The power of translations:


Because of the globalised nature of Buzzfeed, it has evolved to become reflective of the diversity of pop-culture in the world today.

Buzzfeed's CEO himself stated, "We see a news story like artists reacting to the Syrian crisis originally by a reporter in our London office or a first-person essay about taking in Syrian refugees originally written in German from one of our Berlin reporters viewed over 3 million times because of translations to five languages."

The power that Buzzfeed has spanned across borders and cultures, and it seems to only be growing.

7. The variety of content fits all your needs - from Top 5 Ways to Cook Mac & Cheese to the latest news!


From its initial purpose of just being a website that tracked Viral content, BuzzFeed now has it’s own huge team of content creators, from covering the latest trends and memes, to even the Presidential debates and more.

Some articles even cover serious topics in a journalistic manner, but yet there is still an element that makes it clear from BuzzFeed – journalism is conducted in sometimes unconventional means, like for example, interviews via Kik.

Experimenting with different formats:


Other than just written content, they have also diversified to videos and even dedicated shows. The Try Guys are a particular popular trio that, as their name suggests, try things from doing Drag to going through Pregnancy pain simulations.

A quick recap on how BuzzFeed became a Top 40 Alexa ranking site (US) - through Word-of-Mouth:

  • Tap into people's social motivations
  • Used bite-sized content with quizzes and GIFs that kept people engaged
  • Encouraged community to get involved and write content
  • Created highly localized variations for different demographics around the world
  • Diversify to produce different kinds of content on different channels as appropriate


Read Next: How To Get Word-of-Mouth: 40+ Successful Examples To Learn From

Melody Madhavan
Melody Madhavan

Melody is a history major and part of the pioneer batch of Yale-NUS College. She hopes to be able to bring forgotten historical narratives back to life, and learn how to make the perfect latte.

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