This is the third in a series of articles on how news for social is produced – take a look at how this is done at Vox and Fusion and check back next week to learn about the approach at NowThis.
BuzzFeed has grown exponentially since its launch in 2006. The company now has eleven international editions, averages over 200 million unique visitors per month and has made efforts to expand its news operations.
After receiving an investment of $50 million from capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2014, BuzzFeed expanded its editorial team into three divisions: News, Buzz and Life.
It also created a new unit, BuzzFeed Distributed, to create native content for social media platforms and assigned the production of short and long-form video to BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, a Los Angeles-based studio, also responsible for the outlet's presence on Snapchat Discover.
BuzzFeed Distributed is a team of designers and illustrators who create original visuals and memes for BuzzFeed's social channels. These assets are requested and shared by a team led by Rachel Christensen, who oversees and directs social media for all non-news editorial content produced by BuzzFeed.
Christensen's team comprises two people who focus on Facebook, an Instagram expert, three social strategists for Twitter, Tumblr and Vine, and a person who overseas emerging apps, such as Line, Weibo, Tango and Viber.
The staff who work on Facebook focus on traffic, Christensen explained, whereas those on Twitter, Tumblr and Vine try to gauge the habits and preferences of people who don't go to BuzzFeed.com.
"We look at what we can we do to engage with people so they still get the BuzzFeed experience without having to leave the platforms they want to be on," Christensen told Journalism.co.uk.
BuzzFeed's non-news editorial content is distributed across seven platforms: Snapchat Stories, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.
This is the best I can do pic.twitter.com/3ZaDX3ju55— BuzzFeed Comics (@BuzzFeedComics) January 25, 2016
Some of it is made by Motion Pictures, which has a team "dedicated to collecting the things that came out on the website and distributed platforms that day, that make our 'best of' on Snapchat." The output for Vine and Instagram is produced in BuzzFeed's New York office.
"If the DIY editor on the editorial team has an idea for a shoot, for example, the Instagram expert on my team would work with that person to tell them what we know about our Instagram audience, what pictures they should take and how they should be arranged," Christensen explained.
The team's prime time for publishing to social platforms is usually in the evening and the timing "doesn't really differ that much" from what the schedule is for BuzzFeed.com.
"If something is breaking on Twitter, we should be focusing on that platform first, and then move it over to Facebook.
"We try to start where the fire is already happening and then watch it spread across platforms," she said.
To measure success on social platforms, Christensen's team has developed different goals for each platform to avoid "putting all our eggs in one basket".
BuzzFeed gets most of its traffic from Facebook videos, but Instagram is still an important presence, even if traffic from that platform can't be measured.
"If maybe in a year it turns out the way we look at traffic isn't the way we used to and instead we've moved to a system of content views, we're already positioned and we've already been there for months."
The organisation has a separate social unit that distributes the stories produced by its News division, led by Michael Rusch, global news curation director for Buzzfeed and BuzzFeed News.
Until now, each of BuzzFeed's newsrooms had three teams, which individually focused on curating the main social platforms – the BuzzFeed News Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts – the app, and the homepage.
But this approach will change in 2016, as BuzzFeed has merged these groups to create three news curation teams based in Los Angeles, New York and London.
"The goal of the teams that are running the homepage, the app and our social presence is to reach the widest possible audience," Rusch said.
"By combining the resources of those particular teams, we're going to make the process of news distribution easier and more effective."
Each of the three curation teams could have between five to eight members, he explained, a mix of curators and more senior editors, focused on the homepage, social and the app respectively.
But everyone, regardless of whether they have a print or digital background, will be encouraged to experiment with the CMS and story formats outside their particular niche.
"When we are producing content for other platforms outside of the one we control, we no longer have the ability to create initiatives longer than probably six months," said Rusch.
"It's very hard to say to someone 'this is your defined role and this is what you'll be doing for X amount of days', because the market doesn't allow that to happen, and that's why we want to keep these positions more fluid and open."
The curators will be in charge of producing some of the social content, but they will also receive assets such as GIFs, charts and videos from other units within the company, like BuzzFeed Distributed and BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.
For example, BuzzFeed News and Motion Pictures collaborated in December on a Snapchat Discover edition to celebrate Muslim Identity Week.
"This relationship with Motion Pictures is not just for the internet, for the comedy and for the fun," Rusch said.
"We're also looking at how to best build small documentary videos around investigations, national features or even promo-type material, but sometimes if we launch a breaking news story, or even for daily curation, we might also make our own video in the New York office."
With the new team structure, the aim is to deliver content that is optimised for a particular time frame and audience, around the clock. The New York curation team will focus on the events happening during the day, before the team in Los Angeles takes over to cover the evening news, such as political debates or election results.
But maintaining a presence on so many social platforms requires a great deal of prioritising and a smart way of assigning resources.
For breaking news, that means a story won't necessarily be shared on every platform – BuzzFeed uses a one to 13 ranking to decide which mediums to focus on when it comes to distribution.
The ranking system includes areas such as the homepage splash, the breaking bar of the homepage, push notifications on mobile and the 'quick catch up' section of the app, as well as the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
"For a particular breaking news event, we may have to skip over some of these networks, but we'll be able to have more content for them when we focus on the more scheduled-type material," said Rusch.
BuzzFeed is aiming to roll out the structure for the news curation teams over the next few weeks and complete all training by the end of March, so that staff members and editors will have the ability to work across BuzzFeed News app, homepage and social media accounts.
"Someone who is now running the homepage may have a better understanding of how to promote content over somebody who is maybe overseeing social or the app.
"So this is also part of us learning what other people are doing within their own work and help them to use resources better," Rusch said.
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