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9 ways for BIS to work with Buzzfeed

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Tweet promoting a BIS Buzzfeed story on shared parental leave
A BIS Buzzfeed story on Shared Parental Leave.

A site that counts a list of 27 middle-class problems as one of its most-read articles probably isn’t a media outlet that government press teams would naturally consider targeting.

Which would be a mistake.

Because Buzzfeed UK, now just a year old, has a monthly audience of 10 million people, and gives us the opportunity to tell BIS’ great stories in a different way – and to a different readership.

Luke Lewis, its editor, spoke to a group of people from across government departments a week ago on what makes a good Buzzfeed story, and how we might be able to work with the site. Here's a digest of what he told us...

  1. Anyone who’s familiar with Buzzfeed knows that the key to their content is its shareability. 70% of their traffic comes via social sharing. Whatever we do, it has to be something people want to pass to their friends.
  2. The Buzzfeed Community is there for anyone to sign up to – making it a great resource for us to use as a publishing platform. But just uploading content to Buzzfeed doesn’t guarantee traffic: it needs to gain traction before it’ll be put on the homepage, or pushed via their Twitter feed. And a note of caution: trying too hard to make something ‘Buzzfeedy’ is a recipe for disaster. So we’ll have to rethink the number of cat gifs we weave into our stories…
  3. Buzzfeed is, in part, an entertainment site. Tapping into a story’s fun side is a good way to start it on the road to success.
  4. Be alert to hoaxes. They’re rife online, and it’s all too easy to be taken in by a good story of a drunk guy being eaten by a python. Make sure you know the provenance of a picture, and that your story stands up to fact-checking.
  5. Once we’re up and running on the Community section of the site, Buzzfeed’s CMS gives access to a wealth of data – including whether the traffic is made up of seed views, or has come via sharing. It’ll give us a good indication of what works for sharing, and what doesn’t.
  6. Headlines are critical. Press officers know this – a good headline can make the difference between a piece being read, or not. Luke cited the example of 2 instances of the same story running under two different headlines: one garnered 5000 views – the other, 750 000. That hammers it home, doesn’t it.
  7. A story must work visually. There’s very little text in the majority of Buzzfeed stories, so the pictures are key. “Photos express a reality more succinctly than words,” Luke explained.
  8. For all Buzzfeed’s web-savvy, the traditional aspects of journalism are close to the heart of the site: the staff love scoops and they love to break stories. It’s old-school journalism used to different effect.
  9. 10 is not a magic number. You’ll never see a listicle (Buzzfeed’s bread and butter pieces) of 10, 20 or 50 items. “A list of 10 suggests you’ve had 9 great points and have shoehorned a tenth in for a round number,” Luke said

No number 10. Didn’t you read number 9?

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