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26 Sep 2014

Why an audience-focused approach is vital to the success of mainstream media

Posted on September 26, 2014 by

Last week, Buzzfeed’s founder Jonah Peretti criticised mainstream media titles for copying the site’s format and “missing the point.”

I, like many other 20-somethings, find myself reading Buzzfeed lists and taking its quizzes on almost a daily basis. The mix of content combines breaking news with quizzes, trending topics, celebrity news, humour and nostalgia. The volume of articles published on the site means that there will always be something relevant to each of its readers.

Buzzfeed is built on the assumption that we each have the same interests as our friends and will therefore share content via social media to all experience it together.

Nostalgia and current culture work together to give people a perspective on their career and interests as they share content with each other. I particularly enjoyed reading ‘30 reasons you know you work in PR.’ When we discovered the list, it was quickly emailed around colleagues as we laughed and shared anecdotes.

Since Buzzfeed was created in 2006, it started out fairly slowly but rapidly emerged over the last two years as an innovative social news and entertainment outlet.  Its audience rose from 10,000 unique monthly visitors in 2011 to 130 million at the end of 2013.

It is now raking in £50m, largely thanks to native advertising campaigns by brands which have been keen to take advantage of its success.

But overtime Buzzfeed has influenced mainstream media, with the likes of Metro and Guardian creating similar lists. They’ve seen the success the publisher has had on social media, with 75 per cent of referrals coming from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

But is publishing their own lists and quizzes enough for the titles to steal Buzzfeed’s thunder?

According to Peretti, mainstream media still has a long way to go to meet the needs of the audience.

We’re more consumed by media now than we have ever been before. We’re constantly using news apps and sharing articles on social media – and mainly from mobile devices. Traditional news titles need to stay ahead of the trend and an audience-focused approach has never been more important to their success.

Buzzfeed continues to prioritise its audience when making changes to its mobile app, optimising it so that it is compatible with the latest iOS and android software. The updated app has a screen extension, enabling users to access articles directly from the homescreen of their device. This saves time for users and allows them to save the content for later, leaving Buzzfeed always at the front of consumers’ minds.

They are the kind of improvements and developments we need from media platforms. But it’s not just about keeping pace with Buzzfeed, it’s about keeping pace with the audience. They need to consider what our wants, needs and desires are and then create developments aligned with those.

If they’re aware that a significant amount of readers are going to be buying the iPhone 6, then they need to ensure their content is going to be suitable for the larger screen size.

Also, news titles need to think, “why would someone want to share this content?” every time they publish something new.

And how can they make it shareable? They can add context to what people are reading. It’s not just about simply writing up a ‘breaking news’ story anymore. It’s about making it relevant to your readers.

Buzzfeed’s latest story on India’s first mission to Mars is an example of how this could work. It used ‘hilarious insights’ taken from social media to capture the attention of its audience. India’s first mission to Mars wouldn’t normally be something I’d read, but the catchy headline and jokes used in the article caught my attention.

Perhaps the next step for mainstream media is to each find a new way of publishing their content which takes into consideration the need for shareability.

The BBC has recently taken a storytelling approach which has immersive stories with text, images and video. It’s completely different to anything else we’ve seen before. It gives us readers some insight into the bigger picture of the story – from beginning, middle to the end.

Whatever approach they each take, it’s about making a connection with the audience, and if your media outlet can’t do that, then you will struggle to maintain readers.

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