In a recent interview, Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed.com stated that it doesn’t make sense for brands to post content on their own blog. Instead, he suggests brands place content on sites/platforms that already have eyeballs because they are a better fit for content, like BuzzFeed.com. Of course, this is basically a sales pitch disguised as online marketing wisdom…but there is a glimmer of legitimacy in his comment.
First Off, Some Background
For those of you who don’t know, BuzzFeed is a content website that has 60 million monthly unique visitors. It makes money by creating schlocky, fluffy, listicle content specific to a brand, and then promoting it on BuzzFeed.com. Am I jealous? Absolutely! Who wouldn’t want 60 million monthly unique visitors and clients like Fiat, Toyota and Gas-X?? They’ve done an amazing job building an army of writers who can spin any random collection of facts into a comical listicle that ends up reaching millions of people. That is definitely a talent worth applauding [insert golf clap here].
Where Mr. Steinberg has It Right
As sales-oriented (I feel) as Jon Steinberg’s comment is, it does have some validity. If you’re a brand and you want to have content that goes viral, it’s probably not going to happen on that blog your marketing team just put up yesterday, or heck, even five years ago. In order for content to go bananas, you need to have 1) an entertaining YET instantly digestible and shareable piece of content, and 2) millions of visitors to who go to your website specifically to find entertaining YET instantly digestible and shareable pieces of content.
The primary goal of most brand websites is not to entertain, but rather to promote the brand and provide clear company, product and service information. Some do make an effort to entertain through interesting commentary on industry news and trends, but it’s not their primary goal. It’s not the principal reason people visit a brand’s website either. So, even if a brand creates an entertaining YET instantly digestible and shareable piece of content, the audience just isn’t the right fit for viral activity.
This is where a website like BuzzFeed comes in.
The BuzzFeed audience is looking for entertaining YET instantly digestible and shareable pieces of content…and that’s exactly what BuzzFeed churns out. So, if a brand wants to be connected with a viral piece of content that reaches millions of eyeballs that are possibly attached to the right demographic, there is some legitimacy to going off-site to do so.
Where Mr. Steinberg has It Wrong
I understand the allure of viral content, but is dumbed-down, thin content that’s nauseatingly cute, quirky, and at the reading level of an 8 year old, ultimately good for brands? BuzzFeed has been able to lure top brands like Virgin Mobile and Dreyer’s Ice Cream, but how does Ruffles® Chips (for example) benefit from being associated with a listicle about The 10 People On Vine You Should Follow? Maybe some brand impressions; maybe a bit of referral traffic. But BuzzFeed is ultimately the one that profits from direct Facebook likes, retweets, backlinks or viral activity the listicle may garner. BuzzFeed even nofollows links pointing back to the brand’s website, which limits any “link juice” that could be beneficial for the site’s SEO. (Although some “Featured Partners,” like The Huffington Post and Glamour, do get rel=followed links on their profile pages AND the BuzzFeed home page…are they paying extra for this “link juice”??)
This is where I disagree with Mr. Steinberg.
A brand cannot live on cheap, empty content alone. Company blogs are necessary to help brands establish a voice and build their own value and authority. It’s where a brand can communicate a POV on their industry, share brand-related news and, ultimately, show the consumer they have a unique personality. If a brand was to shut down their blog, or stop generating their own self-hosted content, and only use third-party websites to communicate their unique voice, it means it would have to live off of crumbs of impressions, referral traffic, social follows and backlinks that it might get from these third-party sites.
In the End, You Need Both
You should never put all your marketing dollars into one basket. You need to diversify how you promote your brand. Mr. Steinberg is partially correct, and partially wrong. You should put effort toward building on-site content that can help build your own brand value, as well as off-site content partnerships where your demographics’ eyeballs may be. It’s all a delicate balance. But in the end, the scale shifts based on where you see the biggest bang for your buck. So be sure to define those goals first and don’t get distracted by The Most Valuable Bangs in Tech
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