Content Conversations: Branded Content in the Social Realm with BuzzFeed and GE

On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, OLC attended Content Conversations: Branded Content in the Social Realm with BuzzFeed's Jonathan Perelman & GE's Katrina Craigwell and hosted by Outbrain. Shane Snow, the co-founder of Contently moderated the conversation, asking questions to Jonathan Perelman, VP of Agency Strategy and Industry Development at BuzzFeed and Katrina Craigwell, Lead Digital Content Editor at GE.

Shane Snow began the conversation with the question: "What is your job and how does it link the idea of branded concept?" Katrina Craigwell answered, "I handle original digital content and distribution through channels like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and that distribution strategy is fairly new [in regards to Instagram]." Jonathan Perelman said, "I run partnerships with advertising agencies and figure out the pricing model."

"What is it about BuzzFeed that lured you away from Google?" Snow asked. "I love Google," Perelman said, "but as I looked at the media landscape, I got really excited about BuzzFeed. We're at the cutting edge of the branded landscape. We're in the golden age of advertising and BuzzFeed is at the head of that. GE, actually, is at the head of our strategy. We turned their home page into something like a time machine and changed that ads—they were actual GE ads from 1920—we took their original copy and stuck them to the website. We've seen Virgin, Mini, Toyota, Pepsi and they have a really good understanding of what their brand and voice are."

"How is Pepsi different from the other brands?" Snow asked. "At BuzzFeed, there aren't any banner ads," Perelman said. Digital moved from search, portal to social. Digital is meant to be shared. We had an article about Pepsi Next called "10 Things You Haven't Tried But Should". It's really interesting content. Great brands are creating content first. So 88% of stuff is bought in stores so think of a funnel. If you're going to buy something from a store, like Pepsi Next, we're hoping people will think of the interesting content they saw on our website and purchase the product."

Snow turned to Craigwell to ask, "What is GE's goal—what's the point of digital content for them?" Craigwell answered, "I think for us, most people won't but products, but people have bought or shared or used it. We can use content to connect with those people. We're trying to unlock the passions of users and digital is the way to harness it and be transparent while doing so." Snow asked if the strategy was working. "Having one million views on YouTube doesn't mean people will buy jet engines, but it's about content engagement and content conversation that leads to sales. The shift in our focus to Instagram, it shows that people are engaging, creating touch points that are really important," Craigwell said.

"A lot of publishers don't do a great job creating a voice—if you were to strip away context, you wouldn't have any idea as to who wrote it," Snow said. "I think it's good to experiment," Perelman said. "One of the questions we ask ourselves is, 'Would you actually share this yourself?' I think we don't take a second to ask yourself if you'd share this because we're so caught up with ourselves. It's important to understand who you are in your brand. It's getting back to basics. It's not selling more. 'What do I stand for?' 'What is the content we're trying to get across?' Make it yours. Brands need to develop their brand voice. BuzzFeed really understands what their voice is. If there's a breaking story, we take some time ask 'How are we taking it a different angle?' and we ask ourselves all the time, 'Will millennials read this?' "How are we going to get people to share this?' It's a combination of a brand's voice and BuzzFeed's voice."

"At GE, what has not worked, in terms of content distribution? How is GE's content recognizable?" Snow asked. "We have had a number of different external copies," Craigwell said. "I think building externals and creating support through them is important. One way we simplified and streamlined content is sharing relevant information and content. We also moved to Tumblr and when we did, all content were moving on the network, as opposed to 50% getting shared and the other 50% remaining stagnant."

"So you create your own traffic to your site and publish on different content sites. What are the advantages to both?" Snow asked. "You have to take into account what the site is," Craigwell said. "Think about what that site is about. There is a balance between publishing on different content sites and ours. It's really how one can do something that's valuable."

"When should people use BuzzFeed and why?" Snow asked. "We have 40 million unique visitors. About 70 percent of them share content on BuzzFeed. Why do people share? It's for two reasons: to form a community and to promote your brand, personal or not. You want to share something cool," Perelman said. "You want to share something in the moment. People are looking for something cool to share. We view publishing today as a Parisian café—we believe that great content finds people. Also, no matter how you brand, it's going to be obvious. We have a great creative time. We do brand integration—we don't trick anyone. The things that share really well have less branding. Product placement really depends on what the advertisers want. We have to work with each of our clients for branding and storytelling."

"I know that you do a lot with video," Snow said to Craigwell. "How do you determine what method to use?" he asked. "We produce a lot of visual content," Craigwell said. "I think we, from priority perspective, communication is high and through meetings we squeeze out what we can get on visuals—video shoot or photo shoot. Another thing is really upping on YouTube strategies. We were excited to see that people were talking about the environment on one of our video shoots and they were asking for extended cuts."

"What are you guys skeptical and optimistic about?" Snow asked. "I'm skeptical about anything that can't hold my attention," Craigwell said. "But I am optimistic about continuing to invest in original content and moving away from the curated web." Perelman said, "A big challenge to overcome is that people are gun shy, but I am optimistic that more investment will come in time."

Last month's event recap: