Buzzfeed study challenges viral content myths

A goal for many marketers is to see their content spread far and wide online. Crafting a post or video that takes the Web by storm might be less complicated than many pros might think.

PR pros are often told to abide by certain “rules” if they want to see their organization’s content go viral.

Do these sound familiar?

o Keep it concise.

o Use plenty of images.

o Don’t exceed 800 words.

o Tell a story.

A recent study from Fractl examines content from BuzzFeed—a vaunted platform for viral content—to determine which forces (supernatural or not) had the greatest influence on a post’s garnering of shares.

“We wanted a get a better understanding of the anatomy of content on BuzzFeed, so we used BuzzSumo to analyze 100 most-shared articles between March 15, 2015, and March 15, 2016,” Fractl’s study states. “We looked at word count and image count. We also categorized the articles into 11 different topic areas.”

From Fractl’s website, here’s the study’s breakdown by article type:

  • Books, movies and TV: From “Parks and Recreation” to “Pride and Prejudice,” BuzzFeed has a lot to say about pop culture.
  • Current events : Articles related to the news.
  • Family and friends : Lists and articles about best friends, sisters and everyone special in your life.
  • Generations: BuzzFeed has a fondness for guessing your age and talking about the ’90s.
  • Lifestyle: Everything from cooking to DIY to articles geared toward elephant lovers and certain professionals (e.g., hairdressers).
  • Mental health : Articles about coping with mental illnesses or assisting and understanding others with mental health challenges.
  • Parenting and kids : BuzzFeed helps you raise the tykes in your life.
  • Physical health: Anything related to exercise or coping with physical illnesses.
  • Region-specific and travel: Articles about the unique aspects of being from a certain place, as well as travel articles.
  • Teaching: Teaching memes are huge on BuzzFeed.
  • Women: Articles tailored to women, including posts on body positivity.

Content lengths and shares

As the number of people who consume content on their smartphones and tablets continues to rise, a trend among content marketers—dubbed “bite-size” or “snackable” content—has emerged.

From Social Media Week:

Folks simply don’t have time to read a 10-page article or even a 750-word whitepaper. At the same time, as our attention spans are shrinking, the amount of content available for consumption is increasing. Snackable content is not just truncated information; it’s content pieces that are intentionally designed for quick, easy, on-the-go consumption. You see it, you scan it, you ‘like’ it or retweet it and move on with your day—all in just a matter of minutes.

Of the articles Fractl examined, content length ran the gamut. It analyzed 600-word and 1,000-word stories, as well as articles that boasted 5,000 words or more. Despite the increase in “on-the-go consumption,” data show that with the right topics, long-form articles were shared as much as shorter pieces.

Articles about books, TV shows, current events and travel were among BuzzFeed’s longer pieces (900 words or more), yet they still received a substantial amount of shares.

Although 75 percent of the study’s viral articles had 600 words or fewer, if a piece of content had wide appeal, offered an interesting narrative or discussed popular culture, word length didn’t dampen people’s desire to share it.

Influential images and viral content

It’s widely believed—and, in some instances, proven—that adding an enticing image to a press release or blog post improves your content’s reach. To grab attention online, an article’s text-to-image ratio is something many content marketers consider before crafting an article. RELATED: Get the scoop on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram developments at Facebook headquarters.

Fractl data found that although readers tend to prefer roughly 25 words per image, not every top-performing BuzzFeed article had that many images.

“The least image-laden article, ‘This is why your baby doesn’t sleep through the night,’ had 456 words per image—which is almost a full page (of 12-point, single-spaced font) per image,” the study states.

BuzzFeed is known for posting plenty of GIFs and images with its content—Fractl’s study averaged 25 images per story. When considering various topics, however, the widespread sharing of a post had more to do with audience appeal than the number of images.

Particular topics were widely shared despite their low number of accompanying graphics and pictures.

“Generations, physical health, family and friends, women, parenting and kids, lifestyle, and teaching all included less than 25 images,” the study states. “Readers were more willing to share higher text-to-image ratio content in current events, mental health, travel, books, movies and TV shows.”

Tips for more sharable content

If you’re looking to improve your content’s reach but don’t have a dedicated team of investigative journalists or graphic designers on staff, focus on your niche and post stories that relate to specific audience members (millennials, pet owners, New York residents, parents, news lovers, etc.).

Also focus on content that tells an emotional story, capitalizes on trends, provides useful advice or relates to a specific area or region.

For example, a story that’s geared toward Chicago-based PR pros might have a greater chance of being shared because it’s focused on a single niche. If one Chicago-based PR pro with a large social media following finds your post useful, it’s probable that his or her entire network will, too.

Here are a few other tips for expanding your content’s potential reach:

  • See that dot and the ones beneath it? Bullet points are your friends. Nearly 75 percent of BuzzFeed’s most-shared posts featured lists.
  • When in doubt, shoot for 500 words. Collectively, articles across every listed topic averaged 420 words.
  • Some article topics lend themselves to extra length, such as current events, entertainment and travel. Each of these averaged more than 900 words per piece.


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