BuzzFeed’s Will Hayward talks about online advertising and content marketing in the age of the social web

Will Hayward

No one likes receiving a gift clearly intended for the person who gave it rather than the person receiving it, right? So why do so many people seem to think this kind of approach will work when it comes to advertising and content marketing in the age of social and a web increasingly built on sharing?

This was the message from BuzzFeed’s VP, Advertising, Will Hayward when he spoke to an audience of advertising professionals (and this journalist) at digital agency SapientNitro in London earlier today. I’d previously heard Will’s colleagues Luke Lewis and Jack Shepherd speak at journalism conferences but their talks were focused almost exclusively on editorial, so I was keen to hear from someone firmly on the advertising side of a business many in our industry are watching closely.

Will’s message to the room was clear. Although BuzzFeed has demonstrated how powerful social sharing can be when it comes to spreading content across the web, it’s no good marketing departments simply putting together 21 Reasons Why Our Business Is The Best And You Should Buy Our Stuff and expecting it to be shared. Instead, Will explained, you need to treat every piece of content as a gift to your audience. A gift they will actually enjoy.

This is obviously easier said than done. If it was simple then everyone would be doing it well and doing it regularly. But the truth – as BuzzFeed have discovered through years of refining content and crunching data – is you really need to invest time and effort in creating content that not only says something about your brand, but also something about the people you want to reach and who you want to share your content with their friends.

Will shared this video (it’s BuzzFeed, it contains cats, obvs) as an example of the kind of shareable ad content that BuzzFeed will increasingly be producing in partnership with advertisers. I think it’s an excellent example of the kind of content that will work on the sharing web. I don’t have cats, but I know people who do, who love them and who I think would love this video too. So there’s a good chance I’d share it with them, and Purina would successfully reach the audience that matters to them.

Much of what Will had to say about the state of today’s internet I had heard said before: social is fast rivalling search as the key driver of traffic, content businesses need to think about the distribution of that content as well as the creation, and how the homepage is becoming less important in the social age. But I think the idea of treating your content as a gift to your audience is a great way of approaching what you are creating online. The key is to make sure it’s a gift for them, not just for yourself.

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