As a card-carrying millennial, I’ve been known to frequent Buzzfeed from time to time. If you’re not familiar, Wikipedia describes Buzzfeed as “a website that combines a technology platform for detecting viral content with an editorial selection process to provide a snapshot of ‘the viral web in realtime’.” What that boils down to is that Buzzfeed specializes in curating and creating addictive content — “popcorn content*” if you will.
Popcorn content is highly consumable; it’s visual (the amount of Buzzfeed GIFs on display is astounding); it gets countless views, shares, and comments; and it quickly fades away, only to be replaced by the next content wave. And it seems to be showing up everywhere.
The Buzzfeed Effect
There is of course nothing wrong with creating viral content that’s easy to digest — it’s every marketer’s dream to publish content that catches fire. But I do worry that in the frenzy to create popcorn content, we’re creating a lot of content that doesn’t resonate. Let’s call it the “Buzzfeed Effect“:
Buzzfeed Effect [buhz-feed ih-fekt] (noun): The desire to produce viral, trendy content at the expense of meaningful, evergreen content.
I started thinking about this after my colleague Jonathan Crowe pointed me to Andy Crestodina’s Copyblogger interview with Loren Feldman, Small Business Editor of The New York Times.
— Jonathan Crowe (@jonathanscrowe) July 29, 2013
In the interview, Feldman talks about his hesitancy to use list articles, saying, “I think list articles tend to be overdone and to have limited credibility.” To Feldman, list articles are a prime example of popcorn content as they tend to be lower on substance. He goes on to suggest that “it’s much more valuable to take more of a case study approach — which allows you to see more of the person’s thinking, what works and what doesn’t.”
Lists vs. Stories
It’s not that lists are always a bad thing. In content marketing, it’s all about figuring out how to best frame relevant, interesting content so that your customer finds and enjoys it. Sometimes that’s going to be a list article. But in this blog post, I want to urge my fellow marketers not to use lists as a crutch that prevent us from taking time to create and tell a meaningful story. We have to resist the Buzzfeed Effect coloring everything we do. As Crestodina writes, “When’s the last time you read a list that made you laugh or cry?”
The Bottom Line
Crestodina brings up a great point at the end of the article, which is that marketers should use both lists and stories depending on their goals. Lists are more visible — they tend to be consumed more readily and generate traffic. Stories are more meaningful — they “entertain, inform, and inspire.” They encourage engagement. If you’re at square one and just beginning to build an audience, definitely incorporate lists. If you’re already working with a large audience, keep them around with more stories.
Popcorn content is so prevalent because it works, but a content marketer’s job goes beyond getting new eyeballs for content. He or she must tell a brand’s story and truly connect with customers both pre and post-sale. It can be tough to resist the allure of the Buzzfeed Effect, but if you sacrifice story for popcorn content, you might be sacrificing customers too.
*Nick Usborne has his own take on popcorn content in his eBook, “Popcorn Content: The craft of writing short-form content for social media.”