By Meghan Peters, News Partnerships
BuzzFeed is famous for its fun, addictively shareable articles, lists and quizzes, but the global news and entertainment publisher has a serious side, too. On September 26, 2017, BuzzFeed posted a video titled, “the power to live and forgive,” detailing the story of Eva Mozes Kor, a holocaust survivor who lived through unspeakable horrors in Auschwitz. The video was more than 14 minutes long, and as of November 30, 2017, has more than 1.7 million shares, 173 million views, and was watched for an average of more than 3 minutes per viewer, becoming BuzzFeed’s main Facebook Page’s most shared video of all time.
Eva’s story gripped audiences and carried a powerful message. But, for BuzzFeed’s editors, it also served an unintended purpose — it made them rethink serious, long-form content and how well it resonates with its audience.
1.7 Million Shares
3 Minutes Average Watch Time
173 Million Total Views
The piece reinforced a trend the company had started noticing on Facebook: people were not only sharing and watching longer videos, but sticking with them and watching them for longer. We’ve found that on average, non-live videos on Facebook uploaded by news publishers get 30% more shares when they’re longer than 90 seconds.
Now, BuzzFeed’s global video team is starting to pay close attention not just to shares and views, but how long someone is watching for. “We’ve been getting a signal that longer, more serious videos are doing well on Facebook,” says Maycie Thornton, Director of Social Media at BuzzFeed. “Watch time is a newer metric for us, and we’re starting to lean into longer videos that educate our audience. ”
This video was able to gain traction because of the system that BuzzFeed has put into place over years of producing video for social platforms. Their system encourages experimentation amongst video creators and pairs that with a data team that closely pays attention to how an audience responds across social platforms. We’ll take you through how BuzzFeed first started noticing the success of their longer videos, how they look at their data, best practices for sharing content to social, and how this feedback loop informs and scales future content.
Encourage Flexibility Amongst Content Creators
BuzzFeed has small teams that focus on specific goals with the ability to experiment and produce videos that they’re interested in. Flexibility is key for BuzzFeed, as any piece of content can become a test for a hypotheses.
In 2015, a five-minute video detailing a personal story of suicide was different from a lot of other material at the time, but it resonated with people on Facebook and received more than 750k shares.
In 2016, BuzzFeed posted a video titled “What Dark Skinned People Will Never Tell You.” It was another video that ran longer than 5 minutes, and was shared almost 350,000 times.
Later that year, “This Video Shows the Importance of Recognizing Emotional Abuse” received more than 250,000 shares.
By the time “the power to live and forgive,” the story of Eva Mozes Kor, was ready to be shared in September, Thornton and her team had identified a trend. “We had already been seeing a lot of similar videos like this doing well on Facebook,” she says, noting it wasn’t a deliberate strategy, but a result of the flexibility given to the content teams.
Build Pages to Test and Experiment
Through Facebook you can build out new Pages for different audiences, and use them to test content. As videos on Pages tailored for more specific audiences begin to do well, they’ll be cross-posted to bigger, more general Pages for more reach. Today, BuzzFeed has more than 200 Pages they use to target niche audiences and experiment to see what resonates before sharing to the main BuzzFeed or BuzzFeed Video Pages.
A classic example for BuzzFeed of the success of newer Pages and verticals is Tasty, which now has more than 90 million followers. “It’s such a clear example of how we saw that food videos really worked on Facebook, and we wanted to figure out what that looked like for us,” says Thornton. The team tried many different types of videos and formats, from ones that showcased people, to ones shot from the side, to the now ubiquitous overhead shots. “We were changing things until we hit upon a format that became so repeatable. It was obvious we should expand even further and really blow this up, but it’s not always that black and white.”
Think About the Viewer
Thornton oversees a team that is responsible for deciding the best ways to present videos on specific platforms. The thinking for Facebook has been to make short videos, add captions to the bottom, and make the video square with bars that describe the video at the top and bottom of the frame — known amongst the team as a “meme bar.”
Because BuzzFeed had been seeing success with longer, more serious videos on Facebook already, they posted “The power to live and forgive” in full to the platform. Whereas before they might have edited it down for length, they left it at 14 minutes and add both captions and the “meme bar.”
Know How to Measure Success
BuzzFeed reduces data noise by focusing on the metrics they believe are most valuable. On Facebook, they’ve traditionally focused on shares. As CEO Jonah Peretti said in his annual memo to employees, “Sharing is the clearest metric for showing that media is creating a social connection between people. It is why we obsess about ‘share statements,’ or what people say when they share our content.”
Recently, watch time has been added as one of the top metrics, along with shares, that BuzzFeed’s global video focuses on. “One of our rules is to listen to what the platforms tell us,” says Michelle Kempner, VP of Operations at BuzzFeed Entertainment. “We’re seeing that by focusing on watch time, we’ve had great results. It’s been a driver for performance in other areas.”
Look For a Clear Signal
The goal for Thornton’s team, amidst the thousands of pieces of video content being produced and shared each day across BuzzFeed’s Pages, is to find a signal. A signal can be a trend, growth pattern, or single spike that suggests something is resonating with an audience in a way that could provide important learnings.
With 1.6 million shares and an average watch time greater than 3 minutes, the story of Eva Mozes Kor sent a definite signal to Thornton and her team that could suggest a shift in behavior on the platform. “When you know, you know, and it’s a really clear signal. This video that we’re talking about would definitely fall into that category,” she says.
Once the signal is found, Thornton’s team will take that finding back to creators to generate more content. The idea is to find what is working and be able to scale it. This is part of the important feedback loop. “What we’re trying to do is speed up the output process so we can get signal back more quickly from the platform. Then we can go back through old videos we’ve posted to other platforms and restructure them for Facebook and see if we can get them to work,” says Kempner. “Then we can take that signal back to the content creators and say something like ‘Longer videos that are on this subject matter work well’ and distill it into learnings so that we can then generate even more content.’”
Because the “the power to live and forgive” video was so recent, the team is still figuring out what that says about their Facebook audience, and how that might lead to further expansion. “We try to be really cautious when saying why something did or didn’t work because it could be a million different things,” Thornton says.
On October 10, they reposted the video from 2015 about suicide. This time they changed the title to “We need to talk about mental health” and it performed better than when it was first shared two years ago.