40 million, 50 million, 47 million. How do BuzzFeed get so many interactions on Facebook every month?

Over the first quarter of 2014, our Facebook rankings have shown BuzzFeed consistently rank way ahead of any other sites.

In March, our Spike platform recorded them clocking up almost 47.5m combined interactions, including over 13m direct shares. In February, they broke the 50m mark. The volume of these shares far outstrips their competition. The Huffington Post came second last month, with about 18m less interactions.

Of the 20 (English language) articles with the most Facebook interactions globally last month, guess who had the lion’s share:

We’ve known for a while that BuzzFeed have been getting much social media mileage out of their interactive quizzes. Three months into 2014, it seems as though they’re the number one factor behind their ever-increasing Facebook dominance. For much of the latter months of 2013, it was the Huffington Post who held the lead over BuzzFeed (with Upworthy even challenging inNovember), and BuzzFeed saw nowhere near the huge volume of interactions they now reap every single month.

Here’s a chart with the titles and publishers of the top 20 Facebook stories last month:

As you can see, there’s essentially no hard news there. Evergreen, fun content performs strongest by a long shot. That’s not to say that longform content from sites like the New York Times doesn’t do well – we analysed feature stories last year and found that they get impressive social mileage. However, the above table shows that in order to clock up the monstrous Facebook shares enjoyed by BuzzFeed and similar sites, you’ve got to keep thinking with sharing in mind.

The reality is that, for their audience, these stories are considered quality content. When Facebook say ‘quality content’, they mean stuff that users are going to see in their timeline and immediately say ‘Cool’, click, and hopefully share. For a large number of Facebook users, that doesn’t mean lengthy features on international affairs, or scintillating data coverage. It means finding out what kind of Mythical Creature they are.

BuzzFeed have, in a relatively short space of time, managed to turn their biggest viral blockbusters into the equivalent of advertisements for their own site. It’s a clever move. The bored browser clicking into a quiz about 90s pop stars might be tempted to click onto a longform feature in the sidebar. Or onto much more serious news stories, something which the site has quietly been getting better at. Those stories haven’t yet managed to attain the massive engagement figures of the quizzes, but neither has almost any other site.

For instance, the normally conservative and politically focussed Daily Telegraph had a big Facebook hit called ‘Man sings Let it Go in Voices of Disney and Pixar characters‘ in March. Throughout the upper tiers of the Facebook popularity table, that’s the type of content that’s getting shared, and it’s going a long way to help make a lot of sites’ overall monthly figures glisten.

Interestingly, it’s a different story on Twitter, where top stories come from a much more diverse range of publishers. Popular stories on Twitter also seem to be far more news related.

Here are the top 20 Twitter stories, according to Spike:

Here, there’s a much wider range of publishers, some of which are very niche. For example, the Irish Post, a site that serves the Irish community in England, landed on the global leaderboard with a story about the Queen meeting One Direction’s Niall Horan. A similar performance on Facebook seems unthinkable.

Next, things are a lot more current on Twitter. With the exception of Slate’s ‘Travoltified name generator‘ (which also did very well on Facebook), there isn’t much evergreen stuff to be seen. Product announcements, news stories and think pieces dominate. A theory – perhaps sharing what mythical creature you are doesn’t seem as appealing when you’re broadcasting to people who aren’t in your close friend circle.

And so, lessons that we can take from this. Publishers looking to rival BuzzFeed in any meaningful way on Facebook need to understand their audience. Then they have to consider the extended circle of their audience – the people who will hopefully see their content shared.

By now, they should really understand the difference between popular content on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, publishers should not be afraid of creating fun content – if it’s done well, and genuinely isn’t spam, it won’t be punished by the algorithm. All it requires is a little imaginative flair.

We extracted all our data from our pro tool Spike, which tracks the biggest stories on social media in real time. If you’re interested, you can sign up for a trial here - it only takes 30 seconds. 

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NewsWhip tracks the stories that matter to hundreds of millions of people each day. NewsWhip’s pro dashboard - Spike - is used everyday by the BBC, BuzzFeed, NBC, and Digitas. Try it out for free here.