I’ve had modest success posting as a Community Contributor in the last 18 months — crowned BuzzFeed’s King of Cute, quoted by Gawker and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, tweeted by The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences — and the strategies outlined below were refined after a fair bit of trial and error.
If the last batch of tips were style points developed to ease the endorsement process with the Community editors, the first step to getting any sort of exposure around the site, then consider the ones below more as sound blogging practices that will extend your posts’ shelf-life. Some of these have applications beyond the site so for those that aren’t dedicated BuzzFeeders, read on!
1. Dial In Your Dash
After you open an account at BuzzFeed, you’ll be assigned a custom URL and landing page. The left-hand column includes any posts you’ve written, from newest to oldest; on the right (not pictured), you’ll find your current Cat Power, badges (more on that in a bit), and top posts, as measured by page views.
Of interest here are the social buttons to the right of your screen name, where you can link Facebook, Twitter, and a final site of your choice (blog, Tumblr, whatevs). Activating these embeds is recommended because if readers like your work, they might tip you with cool stuff, recruit you to contribute at other sites, or ghostwrite their Buzzfeed posts.
Pro tip: Posting under your full name will help you score higher in Google’s search rankings and make it easier for interested parties to contact you.
2. Read The Site And Sign Up For The Daily Email Blast
The best way to stay current with BuzzFeed is to keep coming back for more. With outposts in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Australia, England, and beyond, it’s a 24-7-365 behemoth and new content is always hitting the homepage.
Like most people, I tailor my reading and posting habits around my interests and this includes viral videos, cute animals, music stuff, and art with a movie or pop culture twist. For these reasons, I scan the following “Verticals” — that’s BuzzFeed’s term for pages organized around topics — every morning: Animals, Geeky, Music, Sports, Video, and Community (hover over the nav bar at top to see all of them). Find what works for you and develop a routine.
Pro tip: Sign up for BuzzFeed’s daily email. It’s a great snapshot of the site’s editorial priorities and the copy is reflective of the conversational tone — is casual exaggeration really a thing? — most often employed by the site’s writers.
3. Lean On The BuzzFeed Style Guide
From abbreviations and preferred spellings to acronyms and formatting guidelines, BuzzFeed’s official Style Guide overflows with all manner of useful minutia. Bookmark it now, because you’ll likely be returning again and again.
The Community editors usually don’t edit anything too heavily but they will fix any obvious errors. You want the editorial process to be as frictionless as possible and the best way to ensure that is to smooth out any issues — either style-wise or with the content itself — before you publish.
After you push a post live, double back to your landing page and the Community vertical. This is a good time to assess the image thumb. Does it look compelling? Is it on topic? How does it compare to the posts above and below it? Can you finesse the headline or secondary descrip into something more beautiful and engaging? These are all questions you should be asking yourself.
Pro tip: If your post is “boosted”, you’ll lose editing privileges but the Community editors can touch up any typos or style points.
4. Go Off Menu And Push A Post Wide
BuzzFeed’s content management system affords Community Contributors 4 types of posts: articles, lists, numbered lists, and countdown lists (for now, only the staffers have access to the site’s much discussed quizzes). The blogging software is all very intuitive but you should experiment with each format to find out what best compliments your style.
The default margins for all posts are set at 1020 pixels, of which about 625 are allotted for the writer in the left-hand column (the remaining space on the right being used to seed trending posts). Because BuzzFeed doesn’t run banner ads, posts can be set wide if the extra space enhances the content. This tweak can only be administered by the Community Editors so ask them politely via email and they will assess the fit.
These “X Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About” or “X Thoughts You Have When…” have become increasingly popular with the staff writers in the last year, but I still think the wide format lends itself best to posts that are image-rich. Take the example above, a mashup of The Simpsons and The Amazing Spider-Man.
Given the additional space, the colors and the details really pop and the post is more engaging as a result. After it was promoted to BuzzFeed’s homepage, it got about 32,000 page views and was`linked up by Comics Alliance, Laughing Squid, and Team Coco, and I’m convinced that the larger image was instrumental in this.
Pro tip: Image files need to be at least 990 pixels wide.
5. Make An Anchor Image For Your Lists
More a best blogging practice than anything really unique to BuzzFeed, the creation of an anchor image will lend your lists a strong visual component and give someone that wants to link it a readymade graphic. BuzzFeed’s headers are composed by the site’s graphic designers but anyone with image software can turn out something themselves without too much fuss (the one above was composed in less than 30 minutes). One no-cost solution is PicMonkey, a free site that lets you “transform” images with “easy, gorgeous effects”.
Sourcing good photos can be tricky, but using or snapping some of your own is one obvious answer. Also recommended is digging through the Creative Commons at Wikipedia and Flickr for something appropriate. Pick a funky font, layer the image with some text, and you’re donezo.
Pro tip #1: For conventional posts, the image size should be at least 625 pixels wide; for wide posts, they should be 990 pixels.
Pro tip #2: Anchor images work best for lists with a minimum of 10 points.
6. Teach Yourself To Cut Reaction GIFs (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Graphics Interchange Format)
Used as shorthand to tell stories and drive reader engagement, looped GIFs are the soft currency of the realm at BuzzFeed. Their exact use varies from writer to writer, but they are most commonly employed to punctuate or reinforce a post’s emotional takeaway, to narrate a story which may or may not be related to the source (or content) of the GIFs, or tease out the best piece(s) of a video so as to increase its play rate (example here).
I’m not going to wade into the mechanics of cutting a GIF here but everything you need to get started is detailed in this tutorial by one of BuzzFeed’s senior editors, Katie Notopoulos (and I’m totally co-signing on her endorsement of GIFBrewery).
Another helpful add-on is ClipGrab, a free program that lets you download videos from YouTube, Vimeo, MetaCafe, DailyMotion, and other video hosting platforms. Plug a video’s URL into the app’s search bar and it’ll supply you with the raw ingredients for all of the GIFs you might ever want to GIF.
Pro tip: If you post videos frequently, develop your screen capping talents, a basic but essential skill that any writer or blogger with web publishing aspirations should master. Most Macs and PCs bake this function into their operating systems, but they often come with poor controls or pesky restrictions. One good workaround is Snapz Pro X.
7. BuzzFeed Is A Video Game And The Badges Are Its Power-Ups
If GIFs are the soft currency of choice at BuzzFeed, then the webspeak badges — WTF, LOL, WUT, etc. — are its hard currency analog. Governed by algorithms, they’re a measure of a post’s stickiness and they’re hard to trigger (typically, at least 100 reactions are needed but the figure is always in flux and dependent on a variety of factors such as page views, comments, and the quality of inbound links). The awards are largely ceremonial, but they will earn your posts some additional exposure around the site and for anyone that’s ever gamed, the sensation of winning one is eerily similar to finding an elusive power up (yes, it’s strongly Pavlovian and no, I’m not crazy).
There are no metrics to measure this against but I like to see posts that hit the homepage average at least 1 reaction for every 1000 page views. Successful posts hit even stronger, usually at a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1; anything better than that is indicative of something really engaging (or infuriating). This one, Small Boy Offers Hug, Clucking Chicken Accepts, trended at a 4 to 1 ratio (404 reactions against 104,000 page views), which is about as good as any post I’ve authored to date.
Pro tip: Seed badges liberally around the site (because karma!). It’s also good practice to break the ice on your posts with 0 reactions; the appearance of interest (or lack thereof) will sway future readers.
8. Make Nice With The Neighbors
BuzzFeed’s Community page is managed by three full-time employees — Cates Holderness, Spencer Althouse, and Michael Blackmon — that work out of the site’s offices in New York City. The help desk is staffed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (EST) on weekdays, during which time they are surfacing the best posts, admining Community’s social feeds (Facebook and Twitter), and policing comment threads. What connects them, beyond a general enthusiasm for the BuzzFeed mission, is that they were all previously Community Contributors themselves. As such, they are uniquely positioned to understand the feels — you know, emotions — that come with posting under the Community banner.
Beyond these editors, the BuzzFeeders umbrella encompasses a sprawling mix. Most members are individual writers trying to find an audience for their work, but also present are established bloggers, brands, publishers, content strategists, websites, celebrities, and more, all with a message to share. Even the White House has an account.
One of the best ways to measure what works at Community is to look at its leaderboard, where you’ll find top posts and top users. If you’re just starting out, shadow a couple of them closely to see what’s successful and, equally important, what’s not. This might include following them on Twitter, shooting them an encouraging email (“Heya, I really like this post of yours and I have a question about it…”), or badging their posts. Small gestures like this are a great way to open and build relationships (today’s intern is tomorrow’s editor).
Pro tip: One constructive way to engage the community is to respond to a successful post with one of your own. A second is to contribute to the “Add Yours” lists that get cycled through Community’s featured post box every couple of days.
9. Create Something For The Internet…
Lists and viral content are BuzzFeed’s bread and butter but one way to find some separation is to develop and share original projects of your own creation. The only limit here is your imagination but obvious forms this might take include comics, recipes, cartoons, charts, infographics, photo sets, animated GIFs, fake Snapchats (or other social media ephemera), posters, illustrations, interviews, and videos.
Take the clip embedded above, a “supercut” of film’s most memorable t-shirts, that I co-edited last year. After publishing it at YouTube, I reposted at BuzzFeed, where it was endorsed by the Community editors. The video subsequently found a wider audience online, crossing over to sites like Sports Illustrated, io9, Uproxx, and a bunch of others. The point of this isn’t to brag or boast; rather, it’s to show you that BuzzFeed is a great platform to break cool projects at.
10. …Or Go Somewhere And Report Back
Covering an event in the real world is also one way to carve out a niche. After a series of emails last year, I parlayed an interview with the curator of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival into a press pass and invitation to sit in as an official jurist. I then pitched BuzzFeed’s Animal editors on a post-event field report and was rewarded with a freelance assignment.
The resultant post, 60 Things I Learned At The Internet Cat Video Film Festival, was sharpened with some fantastic edits from the editors at the Animals team and was so much better for it. After triggering a couple of badges, it got picked up by Fox News — fur and balanced, anyone? — and shared by a wide cross-section of the event’s formal and informal stakeholders. Even if you don’t have priority access, documenting an event that generates lots of chatter, either online or off, will pique BuzzFeed’s interest, especially true if the site’s coverage is spotty or otherwise lacking.
11. There Are Two Audiences
There are two distinct readerships at BuzzFeed. The first is massive and of a global and polylingual nature, totaling some 200,000,000+ page views during a recent 7-day period. Now within that, let’s imagine a typical reader, Jane, a 20-something that lives in Des Moines. She comes to BuzzFeed on her lunch break during the weekday and loves looking at food, style, and animal posts. If she likes something, she’ll share it with her friends online.
Nested in this mass readership, however, is a smaller subset of writers, editors, publishers, social account admins, and the like, all researching stories or looking for content to bring back to their sites or feeds (and for the purpose of this exercise, let’s also include BuzzFeed’s staff here because they share like crazy on social). This audience is richer, not in terms of dollars but influence and reach. In this way BuzzFeed is a marketplace for ideas, one in which yours are competing against all of the other ones on the site. Can you craft a post that spills over to both demographics?
Pro tip: Think of your posts as traps: sticky, time-consuming traps that suck visitors in and leave an impression. The best posts are so powerful that the reader can’t help but share.
12. Sift Through The Analytics
Among BuzzFeed’s virtues is its transparency. Did you know you can see the traffic history for every post and writer, including your own? And for the site at large? These things are true and there are lessons to be learned by digging into the data.
The graphics are easy enough to read: the blue spikes represent “seed views” on BuzzFeed itself, the red, “social views” coming in from external sources. The majority of this traffic comes from social media (of which, Facebook is almost always the biggest source), but you can break it down further by links, search, and email. There’s no need to obsess over this stuff but reviewing the figures after a post has had its initial burst can offer insights into why or if it found an audience.
BuzzFeed’s Analytics kit is strong but two improvements would make it so much more robust. The first would add metrics for internal traffic. As presently composed, there’s no way to see if hits are coming from the homepage, a vertical (or verticals), the seeded post image thumbs, the “Now Buzzing” sidebars in the right-hand column of most posts, or, most importantly, a link from another BuzzFeed post (either your own or someone else’s). The second tweak would add a lifetime filter to your account; because you can only sort by the last 48 hours, 7 days, or 30 days, there’s no way to measure your full history.
13. Write On The Weekends
I’m a huge proponent of this strategy because of the opportunity it presents. As the graphic above reveals, traffic to BuzzFeed ebbs on weekends, but so too does the pace of publishing, both in Community and amongst the staff writers. On a normal weekday, something promoted to the homepage might get 15 minutes in the top slot before it’s pushed down the fold; the turnover on weekends, however, slows to 45, even 60 minutes, meaning yours will get more exposure and for a longer period (the same is true of posts published to the homepage at night).
This Iron Man striptease video, which racked up 100,000 views in about 6 hours on a Sunday afternoon, is one recent example but a quick scan reveals that at least 6 of my top 10 posts have either been published on a Friday afternoon or over the weekends. And while you can’t really time this stuff, anything endorsed by the editors at the end of their shift can catch an updraft overnight, when it might linger between editorial cycles in the horizontal image thumbs that comprise the site’s featured/trending posts.
One potential drawback to writing on the weekends: the help desk isn’t monitored as actively. It’s also staffed, in part, by people other than the regular Community editors, so your work is in the hands of someone who might not be familiar with your post history.
14. Track Down Your Tweets
If your work is added to any of the verticals, it’ll likely be tweeted by that channel’s Twitter account (some of them, like Sports and Animals and Music, are really good about this). They might even tag you in the tweet so, again, it’s in your interest to make it easy for them to source your handle.
BuzzFeed’s top-level Twitter feed is really picky about what it features and is generally reserved for posts that hit the homepage, but if yours trends onto it, it’ll almost always see an immediate spike of 500 to 1500 page views, sometimes more. At an absolute minimum, you should be faving and retweeting any updates from BuzzFeed’s official channels with your articles.
Pro tip: If your posts get promoted through to the homepage, run your Buzzfeed url through Twitter’s search bar to see who’s shared your work. You’ll have to wade through a bunchy of spammy bots but it can also turn up some high-profile placements.
15. Saddle Up To The (Search) Bar
If you’re going to post content that’s spreading on the Internet right now, dig into the site’s search bar and Community’s Just Launched tab to avoid duplicating something that’s already been posted. Searching by tags will sometimes yield more results (example here) but they aren’t always exhaustive or complete. One alternative is a Google site search, refined by phrase or keyword (example here).
Ultimately, some degree of overlap is inevitable with an operation the size of BuzzFeed, but it happens and you just need to check your frustration if your post gets trumped. The site’s editors are pretty sharp and they will find room for Community content if it was published first, is better written or formatted, and provides more depth or analysis.