Firstly, apologies for the title.
By now I’m sure many, if not all of you, will have seen Daniel Knowles‘ 15 Facts That Reveal The Utter Insanity Of Britain’s Housing Market. Let’s face it wonks: we all loved reading it, retweeting it, emailing it around the office, forcing our loved ones to look at it, forcing people in the street to look at it, and we even stopped looking at BuzzFeed’s other cutting-edge content (mainly cat gifs) to pay attention to it.
This post went viral in a big way – over 185,000 views, almost five thousand Facebook ‘likes’, and more than 1,300 related tweets.
Apart from love for the Feed, the other emotion we all felt (if we’re honest) was a pang of jealousy: we wished we’d written it, wished our research teams had even heard of BuzzFeed, and wished we hadn’t been distracted by those damn cat gifs when we first looked into how to make a BuzzFeed account a few months back.
Making issues and research accessible and engaging is what all who read this blog aim to do. And Daniel did that. I kid you not: he had teenagers arguing about the pitfalls of the UK planning system in the comments section. The planning system!
Or, was it BuzzFeed that did it? In this case I think perhaps ‘the medium is the message’. Everything about BuzzFeed, the emotive headlines, the enthralling visuals, the endless lists, and even the propensity of its users to continually hop from one Feed to another, makes it a potentially ideal place to communicate research. It’s also increasingly a place where serious issues are discussed.
With this in mind, we at the Social Market Foundation decided a few weeks ago that it was high time we made our first foray into the world of BuzzFeed. Our topical topic of choice: energy. We managed to neatly coincide our first BuzzFeed with the launch of a briefing paper on the UK’s energy market and Ofgem going before the Energy Select Committee. You can see our attempt here: Why The UK Energy Market Is Such A Turn Off.
While it’s safe to say that our post didn’t go viral or achieve anything like the spread of Daniel’s (to date we’ve received a seemingly meagre 350 views, 67 tweets and 25 Facebook ‘likes’ in comparison), I think all involved (both research and comms) felt it was a worthwhile exercise.
So, here then are ten tips and observations from our first BuzzFeed experience that I hope might help you in yours:
Yes…it’s a BuzzFeed about making a BuzzFeed
1. Know your place!
You’ll want to be here …but you’ll end up here.
Unless the BuzzFeed editorial staff deem you of sufficient public profile or journalistic weight then you’ll most likely have to come to terms with the fact that your first post will be on the Community pages. However, if your Feed is good enough it can be promoted to the BuzzFeed home page. Whatever you do, make sure that you check the ‘Suggest’ box when submitting your post so that Community editors can judge whether it is worthy of becoming featured.
2. Use it to help your researchers structure a compelling argument
While I don’t necessarily agree with the adage “if you can’t put an argument across in [insert arbitrary figure] then it’s not worth making”, our team felt that BuzzFeed’s standard structure of numbered points helped us to hone the argument we were trying to make and draw out the facts and figures we felt would make the most impact.
Limiting yourself to 10 or 15 points may feel unnecessarily restrictive at first, but as with a press release it’s important to remember that you’re not trying to condense an entire report into a few points or paragraphs.
We actually found this so useful that we’re planning to get our research team to come up with a BuzzFeed-esque summary when presenting new research to the team.
3. Utilise other free tools to make your post look pretty
For our post we used a combination of graphs created in infogr.am, our own Photoshop skills, icons from The Noun Project, Google Fusion Tables, Google Trends data and (sigh) Microsoft Excel charts. We also trawled the internet for other people’s amusing gifs. Remember that images play a large part in getting your point across and ensuring that people are engaged so they don’t simply…..oooooo look The 28 Funniest Notes Written By Kids in 2013!
4. Give yourself lots of time
I was guilty of underestimating the amount of time it would take to get from ‘this energy paper would make an excellent BuzzFeed’ to actually clicking submit. Even if you think you have all your data, graphs and argument ready in your research when you decide to make your BuzzFeed, it will take time to whittle them down into edible chunks, create and source images, draw up drafts and, eventually, upload it all on to BuzzFeed. You may even find yourself going back and changing bits of your research paper. This will all take longer than you think.
5.Read other BuzzFeeds
It may sound obvious but taking a look at some of the more successful factual BuzzFeeds that already exist can help you gauge if yours is heading in the right direction. They can also provide inspiration if you’re struggling. There are also lots of helpful guides created by BuzzFeed…
6. Add a touch of humour…
Humour, employed correctly, can aid the flow of your BuzzFeed and help keep people engaged with it. It can also attract people to your post in the first place – a snappy title should intrigue users and give them a good sense of what the article is about.
This is a rare opportunity to have some fun with a topic or issue that other people might find quite dry. It provides you with a chance to make your research accessible in the most untraditional of wonk ways. It also provided me with an opportunity I never thought I’d have: using a gif of Nick from New Girl when explaining that energy tariffs are too complex.
7. …and not too much detail…wonkcomms blasphemy, surely?
There’s a temptation to include a meaty paragraph under each point in order to expand upon or add greater detail to your heading and image, but try to avoid going beyond a line or two.
Remember that you’re on BuzzFeed because you want to try something that isn’t a longwinded, text-based summary of your research. This will feel weird. I certainly didn’t adhere to this in the first few drafts of our energy BuzzFeed. Nor do I here…but you get the point.
8. Get your facts right and be sure to reference your sources
Despite the fun, the importance of the reputation of your work and organisation remains the same on BuzzFeed as it does in any of your other communications activities.
9. Be prepared for many, many distractions along the way…
You will see a lot of these.
You eventually become immune to them.
You don’t really.
10. Don’t stop sharing
It’s also worth remembering that the real work in promoting your BuzzFeed takes place on Twitter, Facebook, your own website, etc. A #wonkcomms work is never done…
Sean O’Brien is a Communications Officer @SMFthinktank