Thursday, 1 August 2013

Virgin Mobile’s Content Marketing is LOL on Buzzfeed

It’s no secret that the webpage you just stumbled upon, littered with funny cats and embarrassing photos, is a really a sponsored advertisement. If you don’t notice the back slash hidden in the URL (in this case /virginmobilelive) you’ll probably notice that instead of some staff writer, trawling the Internet for pictures of dogs eating birthday cake, it’s the avatar belonging to a leading mobile service provider.

Buzzfeed’s viral success is due to their magic formula of understanding the Internet, and providing the type of content that people will share. Companies like Virgin pay about $100,000 a month in order to obtain a joint venture with the platform and publisher. That's money very cleverly spent, considering Buzzfeed claim they have found the secret to virality. In a recent interview with New York Magazine Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO, speaks about how they’ve found the “secret formula” to “viral optimisation.” A part of this process is monitoring the performance of posts, promoting ones that do well, and ruthlessly dropping ones that do not perform. That’s why you may have noticed the same few titles and pictures floating around – they get to stay because they attract more people to the site.

Whether or not this formula works, companies are eager to jump on the content bandwagon. Creating new, original content that will gain traction is difficult. It’s an art form. So why not use something that’s already working?

I can’t decide whether Virgin’s collaboration with Buzzfeed is innovative or not. It definitely works though. There is no doubt that people around the world are sharing “11 Things No One Wants To See You Instagram” and “27 Cats That Just Can’t Handle It” but the relationship to how this activity is selling product will be a secret kept by the companies – a difficult ROI to work out. There are other marketing elements however, like making impressions and generating a personality for your brand. Perhaps these intangible elements are even more important in a digital age where people are trying to affirm their own individual identities through the content they consume and share.

Regardless, Buzzfeed’s traffic has doubled within the last 6 months. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere as a leading platform to communicate with the masses. Perhaps we should take a leaf from Virgin Mobile and embrace collaborative content creation for better, more LOL exposure on the internet.

Hongi Luo 
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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