How BuzzFeed and Edelman Digital are Making the Social Media Rules


This isn’t the only week you should be on social media, but the first day of Social Media Week in Chicago drew to a close on Monday with an informative lecture from two people who basically command and bend the medium to their will at the Illini Center Orange & Blue Room in the South Loop. Andy Wiedlin, the chief revenue officer for social news organization BuzzFeed and Jenn Sutherland, the vice president for PR firm Edelman Digital both explored the nature of why people share online -- and also what they’re sharing.

Wiedlin pointed out that as consumers have been moving from portals to search engines and have now arrived at social channels to find the content they want to absorb and then disperse to their network of friends and colleagues. He also made the distinction between things going viral (which everyone wants their content to do) as opposed to just getting clicked on: “Nude pictures don’t go viral, but they are clicked on, and there is a difference.”

The difference is that things that are viral are “about moments of relevance and timeliness.” For instance, Halloween will be hot for a couple of weeks, and then nobody will care about it for 11 months. Similarly, nude pictures might be relevant, but nobody is going to willingly share them with everyone they know because they’ll be branded a pervert.

So, how do you make viral content?

“You can’t guess which specific ideas will spread,” explained Wiedlin. “You need to experiment.”

To not experiment completely blindly, what you should do, Wiedlin said, is to “start with a bit snowball...if you want a snowball effect.”

To some in the media, none of this should be a shock. You make content. You seed it. You hustle it. Coming with an idea for a great piece is fine, but usually the true work starts when it goes live and you ping the usual publicists and embark on what’s called a “hashtag conversation,” as Sutherland referred to it. That means hopping on Twitter, observing what’s relevant to your piece, and using the tags when they’re appropriate. Again, only when they’re appropriate. If you try to jump on a bandwagon not knowing what you’re doing, it will blow up in your face. Remember McDonald’s regrettable foray into that territory

Sutherland also pointed out that the rules on this stuff haven’t been written yet, so you should experiment.

So, experiment. It sounds cheesy to say, but failing is a stepping stone to succeeding. It’s true. And also, one of the best things about the Internet and experimenting with different types of content and how you seed it to social media is that the feedback is instantaneous.

But if you’re just doing what you’ve always been doing, you’re missing out on a chance to learn right now. BuzzFeed is a relatively new platform (about four years old since it was in R&D) and it works with brands like Toyota and Pillsbury to craft content -- do you know better than they do?

Check out the full Social Media Week schedule.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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