Thursday, September 1, 2011

Buzzfeed's Quest to Distinguish Themselves

Buzzfeed operate in a web space where content is free and plentiful.  This creates two problems that can be solved through gamification.  First, free content creates many competitors because there are relatively low barriers to entry.  Second, it’s virtually impossible to plow through all the content being released on the Internet and determine what will be viral.  In order for these sites to be successful, they need to build a loyal audience and categorize the best content.

Buzzfeed is a social website that hosts many media partners.  They use an algorithm to aggregate and display trending content from their partners on their website.  Their partners can be as big as Aol and TMZ or as small as an individual contributor.  They also have a team of their own editors that build their own portfolio of viral content.   The company creates revenue through users clicking through to their partner sites and through other forms of advertisements.  Given their business model of using an algorithm to generate content from their partners they focused their efforts on growing their user base and building user engagement.  This increases the likelihood of users clicking on partner content, which grows revenue for the company.  The ideal user of Buzzfeed will regularly visit and view content, provide insights on the content and create a portfolio of viral content.   So we can define their business goals as building a sizable user base that is loyal and socially engaged. 

How they do it:
Leader board – Users can vote on whether they think content will go viral by clicking a “Will This Go Viral” button located on every article uploaded to Buzzfeed.  If the article goes viral, the button will be replaced with a “Going Viral” badge.  Individual user performance is translated into a leader board that lists the top viral predictors.  This feature builds loyalty by creating a level of competition among users and encouraging the users to return to the site often to view videos and vote on content they believe will go viral. 

Badges – Buzzfeed’s badges work differently from other sites that offer badges (or at least the badges I am referring to here).  Badges are listed under every article as “LOL,” “OMG,” “Cute,” etc.  From time to time, they will also list sponsored badges from advertisers.  For example, Mountain Dew once sponsored the “extreme” badge.  Users click on these badges to vote whether they think a video is cute, shocking or just plain odd.  This feature empowers users to quickly provide insights related to the content and categorize the content via crowd sourcing.  With enough votes, a badge will appear on the front page alongside the content, which pushes more relevant content to the forefront and helps build a viral lift.  Though I don’t have sufficient information to measure effectiveness, content with badges seemed to get a few thousand more views via Buzzfeed than content without badges.  With analytical information, an analyst can categorize badge content and compare it to similar non-badge content to measure effectiveness.  He can also measure the usage rates of each badge category to determine the effectiveness of each badge and badges that are used less can be replaced with more impactful badges.  

Awards – Awards are used very much like other sites use badges.  If a user posts content that gets 100 views, they get an award for their accomplishment or if they like content related something the audience deemed gross, they will get a “Grossed Out Award."  By picking up these awards, it encourages certain behaviors from users.  For the examples I gave above, the “100,000 Views Award” encourages users to post content they think others would want to watch and the “Grossed Out Award” encourages users to like content and click on badges. 

How they can make it better:
Bring Gamification Offline – Though it is hard to determine the lifetime of an average Buzzfeed user, at some point a user’s engagement will decrease and possible end, even with an effective gamification strategy.  Buzzfeed’s challenge is to determine whether it is cost effective to attain this user.  In other words, whether it produce an expected positive return on investment.  If deemed important to Buzzfeed, using offline gamification strategies can help increase the lifetime of the user.  Offline strategies may vary from awarding company branded items to monthly leader board winners to awards for user-generated content.  In order to build an effective online gamification strategy, Buzzfeed will need to build a profile of their most valued users and align their key attributes to an offline strategy.

Buzzfeed effectively incorporates their business objectives into their goals by creating impactful badges, leader boards and awards.  The badges create simple and easy ways for users to quickly share their thoughts of the content.  The Leader Board creates a level of competition that encourages users to come back to find viral content and the Awards reward behavior that allows the user to attain the full experience of the Buzzfeed site.

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