When social and audience development strategist Kassy Cho joined BuzzFeed in 2016, she was told to "go out, shoot a bunch of random stuff and see what works on social," then share the findings with the newsroom.
It turned out this was exactly what the publisher needed to start producing video news content that resonated with the under-25s. Although one of the first stories about the clothing brand Supreme selling a £30 brick may not exactly qualify as hard news, it has amassed more than 12 million views on Facebook alone.
The main challenge was figuring out how to tell global stories in a way that can reach new audiences, said Cho, speaking at Hacks/Hackers LDN event last month.
With every new experiment, however, the team learned to repurpose and adapt content for different platforms to maximise reach, ranging from short videos on IGTV to mini-documentaries for YouTube.
This new formula was later used to cover bigger news events, such as the South Korean 2018 Winter Olympics and Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence.
"I like to think of BuzzFeed News World as ‘Humans of the World meets Teen Vogue,'" Cho says about the platform that focuses on younger, particularly female audience, and highlights underreported communities and minorities.
@world Instagram account has now reached 820k followers and, around the time Cho left her job there in August 2019, it had a daily follower growth of about 1,500. The majority of the audience is between 18-24 and it is heavily female (74 per cent).
BuzzFeed News World achieved this growth by creating the content with an audience-first approach, featuring topics that the younger generation cares about, such as social justice and women’s rights, but also politics and hard news.
This mix of current affairs and human stories has proven successful, as focusing on a particular person makes it easier to break down a complex issue or event.
Explainers work well too but you need to be careful not to talk down to your audience.
"Tell a story in a way that is approachable," says Cho, "like if a friend is telling you a story on the mobile phone."
To better serve the young, female audience, she has also launched a weekly IGTV story - 'Badass women you should know about this week'. In these presenter-led short videos, Cho gives a lowdown on women’s rights issues and features role models.
Cho used the same approach at QuickTake by Bloomberg, formerly known as TicToc.
Unlike Bloomberg News, QuickTake exists only on social media. With an audience of nearly 968k followers, Twitter is its biggest platform but the news brand also has 394k followers on Instagram, and smaller audiences on Facebook (81.5k) and LinkedIn (7.5k).
One of the most widespread assumption about Instagram is that it should only feature positive content. But both BuzzFeed World and QuickTake proved that hard news is highly valued - and shared - by younger audiences.
"Hard news does appeal to younger audiences," Cho said. "What we showed is that it is not being delivered to them in ways that appeal to them or in spaces they are in."
"If you are able to build loyal and engaged audience, they will follow you."
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