Why BuzzFeed’s Video Distribution Strategy Demands New Industry Metrics

Why BuzzFeed’s Video Distribution Strategy Demands New Industry Metrics

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Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Instead, take five minutes to read “How BuzzFeed Thinks About Data, And Some Charts, Too.” Okay, so the headline in the BuzzFeed Tech Blog is kinda understated and sorta unassuming. But the post underneath it would register between 7.0 and 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Published late last week by Dao Nguyen, the publisher of BuzzFeed, her “thoughts for an increasingly complex media landscape” will dramatically shake up your multi-platform video strategy. In other words, her thinking represents a seismic shift deep within the tectonic plates of the world of online video and will impact traditional media companies within 250 kilometers (155 miles) of the epicenter – the social news and entertainment company’s headquarters in New York City.

BuzzFeed: Redefining Visitor Metrics

Now, what Nguyen says sounds fairly simple and straightforward: BuzzFeed launched a distributed strategy in January 2015. “Instead of focusing primarily on our website and apps, and using social networks as a way to send traffic to them, we were going to aggressively publish our content directly to platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat.” Hey, I know a lot of other media companies that have taken very similar steps. However, BuzzFeed’s publisher recognized that this meant her company’s traffic reports, which tracked unique visitors (UVs) and page views, “were obsolete.” So, the cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment realized it needed “a new set of data to measure the overall reach and impact of the company,” she says.

buzzfeed snapchat video strategyTime out. This doesn’t happen very often. Why? Because “change is sometimes hard to implement, especially when your entire industry is used to doing things a certain way,” she adds. And she’s absolutely right. Media companies have been measuring the number of unique visitors and page views their websites have been getting for more than 20 years. I remember using those metrics back in 1995 when I was the director of corporate communications at Ziff-Davis and helped to launch ZDNet, which quickly became the second-highest grossing advertising site on the Web in 1996. Back then, Ziff-Davis was primarily a magazine publishing company, so we sold banner ads on ZDNet using traditional ad rate structures that were based on the Cost Per Thousand (CPM) impressions. And we often broke up long stories into multiple pages so that we could get more page views from each unique visitor – even if it aggravated a large number of those visitors.

Well, that was then, and this is now. So, kudos to BuzzFeed for identifying the ways they’ve historically done things and questioning their relevance in today’s world. Nguyen says this process is called “re-anchoring.” There’s even an article by Dan Lovallo and Olivier Sibony in the Mar. 26, 2012, issue of the Harvard Business Review about re-anchoring, so BuzzFeed didn’t coin the term. According to Lovallo and Sibony, “Anchoring is the psychological phenomenon that makes a number stick in your mind and influence you – even though you think you’re disregarding it. Many studies have shown that even obviously irrelevant numbers influence estimates.” They go on to explain, “An anchor is such a powerful influence that only another anchor can overcome it. Re-anchoring combats the anchor of history and convention with another anchor, grounded in a different set of facts.” Get it? Got it? Good. Nguyen acknowledges that re-anchoring is hard for “successful” media companies because the way they did things in the past is how they became successful in the first place.

Nevertheless, BuzzFeed realized that their web analytics data on unique visitors didn’t include people who watched BuzzFeed’s videos on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat Discover, Instagram, Yahoo, Tumblr, Vine, or their mobile app.

As a publisher, BuzzFeed has a huge array of different channels on each video platform, so understanding how each of them perform is critical to the company. BuzzFeed Video alone has generated 7.3 Billion video views across the main social platforms in the past 12 months, captivating viewers with content such as this one, made in collaboration with Purina, which has generated nearly 83 million shares on Facebook:

BuzzFeed’s publisher has even harsher words for comScore’s data. She says, “We estimate that our current comScore metric of about 80 million UVs represents less than one-fifth of our actual global reach, based on ad hoc data provided by partners. Less than one-fifth.” So, this seismic shift in thinking will not only shake the very foundations of traditional media companies, it may also severely damage the reputation of the cross-platform measurement company, too. Especially, one that claims it “precisely measures audiences, brands and consumer behavior everywhere.”

The New Video Metrics Standard

Today, BuzzFeed publishes content on more than 30 platforms in 11 countries. Nguyen says, “For a publisher charged with collecting and understanding all the attendant data, the task has never been more complicated, more prone to error — or more exciting.” Exciting?!? Skydiving is also exciting – but GoPro users still double-check their parachutes before launching themselves out of an aircraft. So, what should video marketers double-check before launching their next campaign?

According to Nguyen, BuzzFeed looks at a combination of metrics that are available across platforms. One of those metrics is “content views,” which are views of BuzzFeed content (videos, articles, lists, illustrations) regardless of the platform on which it lives. And, as you can see from the chart below, a huge percentage of the company’s “content views” are video views.

BuzzFeed chart 1

But, Nguyen understands that YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat all count video views in different ways. “Hopefully though, they count minutes in the same way, so time spent helps us understand more about what our audience is doing,” she adds. And BuzzFeed’s publisher shares the chart below, which looks at the monthly hours spent watching videos published by the cross-platform, global network for news and entertainment.

BuzzFeed chart 2

Nguyen also looks at referral sources and platform locations to see which ones over-index and which ones under-index for time spent. And she shares the chart below, which shows November-December 2015 data.

BuzzFeed chart 3

BuzzFeed’s publisher also looks at total subscription, although the company defines “subscribers” as people who have taken any one of a number of actions to demonstrate their interest in the BuzzFeed brand, including using their mobile apps, signing up for their newsletters, visiting their homepage, or following their social feeds. “This helps us understand different affinities and how they are growing,” she explains.

Different Video Metrics for Different Platforms

Finally, Nguyen says her media company is starting to look at “engagements,” which BuzzFeed defines as “shares, hearts, comments, likes, repins, etc., on all the platforms.” She admits, “We don’t use the same metrics for success on all platforms. We don’t use the same metrics for success for all kinds of videos.” For certain kinds of videos, BuzzFeed looks at views on YouTube but shares on Facebook. “We found that different metrics were clearer signals on these different platforms,” she explains. BuzzFeed’s publisher concludes, “Metrics should reflect what a company cares about, and so each media company has to choose its own data points that matter. Even now, as BuzzFeed adopts a ‘global cross-platform’ strategy, we are dreaming up new ways to understand and learn from data.”

There’s more in her post on the BuzzFeed Tech Blog, so you will want to read it – and re-read it – to make sure you haven’t missed anything. And I strongly recommend that you read it now. If you wait until you have an opening in your busy schedule, then don’t blame me if you are unprepared for the seismic shift in the media landscape. It’s going to dramatically shake up the multi-platform strategies of traditional media companies – which is my definition of a major earthquake that registers between 7.0 and 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Do I have any other strategic insights or tactical advice to share with you at this point in time? Just this: After reading and re-reading Nguyen’s post, you might also be interested in reading “How to Suck at Social Media: An Indispensable Guide for Businesses,” which was published recently on Occam’s Razor. Written by Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, this post looks at four social media metrics that just might be the ones that BuzzFeed is looking for:

  • Conversation Rate (CoR) is a ratio of comments per post (or video or tweet or pin etc.) to overall Followers (or Page Likes). Is what you are saying interesting enough to spark the most social of all things: a conversation?
  • Amplification Rate (AmR) is the ratio of shares (or retweets or repins etc.) per post to overall Followers (or Page Likes). Is what you are saying so incredible and of value that I’ll stamp my brand on it and forward it to everyone I know?
  • Applause Rate (ApR) is the ratio of favorites (or post likes or +1s or hearts etc.) per post to overall Followers (or Page Likes). Do I think the content you’ve posted is interesting, even if I won’t bless it with my stamp and forward it on?
  • Economic Value (EcV) is the value of short and long-term revenue and cost savings. Do we make any money from being on Social Networks?

Kaushik’s post also uses these metrics to look at how B2B and B2C brands are doing on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The picture isn’t pretty. It’s like a major earthquake has just levelled a lot of expectations.

Now, if video marketers combine the strategic insights from Nguyen’s post with Kaushik’s post, then they may just discover a new anchor that is powerful enough to re-anchor the online video and internet marketing industries in a different set of facts. Heaven knows, we need one.


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