‘Local Face, Global Soul’: How BuzzFeed Goes Worldwide
Building a global media business isn’t as simple as just translating popular articles into different languages. It’s about grasping where, how and why stories resonate, and on which platforms. That’s why BuzzFeed has programmed its Slack, the internal messaging platform, to automatically trigger alerts to its editors once one of its regional stories or videos goes viral.
That makes it easier for its editors across different countries to spot what content is taking off in a particular country. They can then move fast to capitalize on the popularity and cultural topicality of the content by adapting it to different languages, styles and formats.
“If something ticks over a given benchmark in its local market or on a given platform — say, 75 percentile in terms of video-share rate on Facebook — a Slack bot lets editors around the world know, so they can translate, adapt or iterate creatively on it,” said BuzzFeed head of European growth Luke Lewis
For example, in India where BuzzFeed has a predominantly distributed content strategy, the team produced the video “Your childhood in 100 seconds,” which generated 12 million views on Facebook. The signal went out to the rest of the network. The result: The U.K. team was inspired to do: “Growing up black British in 100 seconds.”
And there are other in-house tech developments the digital publisher has made in the last six months to accelerate its international metabolism. One is what’s referred to internally as Honey Bear, an in-house search warehouse. This mines BuzzFeed’s network for existing memes, illustrations, posts or videos. Editors can then grab the raw file and translate it themselves or flag it for translation by the centralized team.
Ultimately, the goal is to have this database indexed by mood and emotion and identity as well as topic, according to Lewis. “So, say you wanted to find a meme for Instagram that keyed into the mood of being a sleep-deprived parent or being excited for Christmas. You could find it,” he said.
Using tools like Honey Bear and Slack to share more knowledge across its global network will help avoid resource overlap and focus on which content should be adapted, said Lewis. “There’s no point having teams who can adapt content if they don’t know what’s working in other parts of the network.”
It also helps BuzzFeed skirt the typical trap of just replicating what works in its biggest markets: the U.S. and, increasingly, the U.K. “International teams are in touch with each other constantly. The danger with that is that you end up reflecting a homogeneous global culture, and that’s something we grapple with all the time,” said Lewis. “It’s about showing a local face but keeping a global soul.”
BuzzFeed has a load of examples of English-language articles and videos that have gone viral, like the letter the Stanford victim read to alleged rapist Brock Turner, which was its most viewed post in 2016 and was translated into five other languages. Now, it is focusing hard on ensuring non-English pieces get the same treatment.
This aim has so far been successful. The news team for BuzzFeed Japan interviewed Apple’s Tim Cook; the article was translated into English, Portuguese and Spanish. BuzzFeed is also noticing a pattern of similar interests in stories generated in Germany, which then prove equally popular when translated into English for the U.K, like “25 facts that will destroy your worldview,” which generated 4 million views.
BuzzFeed means different things in different markets
In the three years since Lewis launched BuzzFeed in the U.K., the digital publisher has grown from a handful of employees in London to 113 and is currently hiring more staff to populate its in-house video studios due to launch early next year. It has editorial operations in France, Germany and Spain, a partnership with Yahoo in Japan, and in Russia, BuzzFeed exists primarily on VK, the country’s Facebook equivalent. In Russia, there is a staff of one who creates content to suit that platform: memes and short-form video, some of which have generated 900,000 views on VK, according to BuzzFeed.
In India, where Facebook is the dominant social media platform, BuzzFeed has built an audience with social videos on topics that evoke nostalgia, and areas like makeup and beauty. India’s Facebook community is very active and has a strong sense of humor, so a lot of the content is aimed at tapping into that. “The content is just hilarious. There’s a wonderfully distinctive tone and flavor to it,” he said. Personal essays that articulate concerns of millennial women in India also resonate well, such as “Indian Women Are Never Taught How To Be Alone, And That’s A Problem.”
“Fundamentally, BuzzFeed can mean different things in different markets,” said Lewis. “And we have to be relaxed about that.”