• 03.27.13

How BuzzFeed Makes Everything Go Viral

Three words: emotional, social, shareable. Hey, you can do that, too.

How BuzzFeed Makes Everything Go Viral

If all companies are brands and all brands are publishers and all publishers live on their shareability, we all need to know as much as we can about how to get the share.


So when BuzzFeed cofounder Jonah Peretti, the dean of virality, speaks about the phenomenon–like he did at SXSW–the world listens. And for good reason, too: The site pulls in 40 million uniques a month, with 40% on mobile. That’s impressive enough to make them a Most Innovative Company and compelled us to stalk their office looking for innovation clues. On her Svbtle blog, Stealthmode Partners cofounder Francine Hardaway has some reflections worth sharing.

What makes content go pop

Some of the statistics she highlights are shocking, like if content gets going on socials, it can get as much as 34 times the traffic as on the original site.

So how do you get there? Hardaway notes that BuzzFeed knows its target audience: folks who are in front of a computer all day but aren’t working the whole time–what they call the Bored At Work network. As well, she says, a new market for has emerged: all bored people in line looking for snack-sized entertainment.

But regardless of the device, you need to make content that resonates. Hardaway (who has also written for Fast Company) puts it thus:

To make you share something, you have to identify with it in some emotional way. Nostalgia is social. Breaking news about things like the Jodi Arias trial or a tsunami are social. Humor is inherently social, as are cute animals. Buzzfeed did a promotional campaign with Toyota Prius called “25 Hybrid Animals You will Love.” It got millions of shares and views.

It’s the same mechanism in content marketing, too: It’s not you that makes a video go viral, it’s the audience–and audiences share what they connect with. As Scott Stratten has observed, “people don’t share commercials, they share emotions.”

So to become a better writer, twitterer, marketer, whatever–you actually need to get better with your emotions..


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.