How ‘serious’ websites can follow Buzzfeed’s playbook

In a 2012 interview with Sarah Lacy, Jonah explains that one big “we made it” moment for Buzzfeed came when a user emailed him to complain that his site gave her nothing worthwhile to share that day. That’s when he realized that the biggest value to Buzzfeed’s content wasn’t the direct value it provided to the user, but instead the value its content gave the user on their social networks.

Buzzfeed’s key value is simplifying the discovery of sharable content. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a video of a cute beagle to win brownie points with your girlfriend, or an investigative piece on affirmative action to win an argument with your friend, Buzzfeed delivers.

Viral hits follow a simple playbook:

  1. You can explain the concept in one sentence.
  2. You can immediately identify who in your network would love it.
  3. You receive positive feedback from your network.
  4. You return, looking for “your” next hit.

This model fits perfectly into the four-step process for habit-forming products described in Nir Eyal’s book Hooked:

  1. Trigger = See Content
  2. Action = Share Content
  3. Variable Reward = Likes on Facebook, Retweets on Twitter, Karma on Reddit.
  4. Investment = Return to the site regularly to find new, shareable content.

Following this model, one big “we made it” moment for LabDoor came when we released our first category report. Within an hour of emailing the protein rankings to our subscribers, one of our users had already used the link to make it onto the front page of Reddit’s fitness page. Since then, Redditors continue to cross-post and re-post this same link to cash in on the Reddit karma. And, based on our analytics data, it seems to routinely pop-up on random message boards and blogs as well.

It seems counterintuitive to try and compare Buzzfeed and LabDoor. But two companies, one powered by cat GIFs and the other built on chemistry data, really can follow the same growth thesis.

Our content makes our users smarter. And, perhaps more importantly, our content makes our users look smarter to their friends and family.

The next time the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal tightens their paywall looking to squeeze a few more dollars out of their content, they could seriously consider value to the second half of that statement.