BuzzFeed's native advertising: really making ads you want to share?

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Advertising, Digital Media

BuzzFeed's native advertising: really making ads you want to share?

BuzzFeed is a business built on sharing. That doesn't just mean shareable articles, it also means shareable ads. But do people really want to share this branded content?

We thought we'd take a look...

We analysed social sharing data for 689 BuzzFeed native ads from 51 companies, and found the average native ad receives:

  • 263 Facebook shares
  • 36 Tweets
  • 7 Google +1s
  • 44 Pins
  • 2 LinkedIn shares

As there is no central list of publishers that have advertised on BuzzFeed that it makes available, we chose the brands of note we could discern from advertising information available from

Facebook is a native ad's best friend

BuzzFeed has been tailoring its content (and therefore its business) around Facebook for a long time now. In traffic terms, it's not even a contest between Facebook and Google anymore: According to BuzzFeed's own data from its network, Facebook won that race sometime around February last year:

BuzzFeed Facebook Google referral traffic

And when it comes to shares on social media, native ads are shared considerably more on Facebook than on any other platform.

The extent to which a native ad's success depends on Facebook over every other social media platform highlights just how much BuzzFeed's advertising strategy relies on the whims of Zuckerberg and his team. We haven't displayed Digg, Delicious, or StumbleUpon stats in the graph below, but they're included in the averages we calculated later on, and they're available in the raw data at the bottom of the page.

The company with the highest number of Facebook shares for a single native ad was Spotify, whose post "20 Things That Affirm Led Zeppelin Is The Greatest Band To Ever Exist" has been shared over 8,530 times. The same article comes out on top when you include likes and comments in the mix – receiving just over of 49,700 total Facebook interactions.

Twitter-wise, HBO's "10 Reasons To Be Insanely Excited For Season Three of 'Girls' " wins the race with 1,316 Tweets.

BBC America's "10 Unbelievably Beautiful Places You've Probably Never Heard Of" had received the most +1s at the time of data collection – 890 – and also the most Pins – 9,574.

General Electric's "20 Ways You Know You're A Creative" has been shared 524 times on LinkedIn, which is over 7 times as much as the next most shared native ad on LinkedIn.

Social media success

According to our data, the average BuzzFeed native ad receives 4,241 total social media interactions, which includes the networks we have already mentioned plus Digg, Delicious, and StumbleUpon. We did not include social sharing figures for Reddit as returned a value of zero for every BuzzFeed URL we analysed.

67 native ads received over 10,000 total social media interactions, seven ads received over 50,000, and two ads received over 100,000 total interactions.

When breaking down the number of ads that didn't receive a single share on a platform-by-platform basis, 78 percent of the 689 ads didn't receive a single share on LinkedIn, 46 percent didn't receive a single share on Pinterest, 45 percent had no Google +1s, nine percent weren't Tweeted even once, and three percent had no total Facebook interactions (combined likes, comments, and shares).


Paying the bills

At a recent Frontline Club debate host George Brock asked BuzzFeed's UK editor Luke Lewis how well native ads do in clicks and engagement against straight editorial:

"Slightly lower, but if you compared a sponsored post on BuzzFeed to a regular display ad online, it's much higher engagement, but not quite as high as you would get with an editorial post."

BuzzFeed says its click-through rates for story units are between one and three percent. That is substantially above click-through rates that most publishers will be see and is around 20x the industry average, according to BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed has had it's fair share of coverage on the social success of its editorial content, but it's the native ads that pay the bills and wages for the company and allow them to keep snapping up experienced journalists.

And when it comes to those ads, a good click-through rate looks great, but BuzzFeed's real USP in advertising is that sharing – advertisers love the idea that consumers will share an ad, because there's a much higher chance of the ad translating to a sale.

Nielsen research from 2012 found that 92 percent of global consumers – from a sample size of more than 28,000 in 56 countries – trust earned media (recommendations from friends and family) above all other forms of advertising. 70 percent trust online consumer reviews, 58 percent trust messages found on company websites, and 50 percent trust emails they sign up to receive.

Advertisers are keen enough on BuzzFeed's ad strategy that BuzzFeed is having to turn ad buyers away because they don't have enough inventory, but what we don't know is how well native ads translate to sales for companies choosing to advertise on the site.

However, BuzzFeed's proven ability to get content shared is integral to its argument that advertisers should pay it, rather than anyone else, to get their messages out. As long as they can keep advertisers convinced that they are the best in this game, they will continue to attract advertisers looking for better ways to reach their audiences.

Top 15 rank and raw data 

Note: We only analysed data for 51 companies, and while our sample size may not contain all of the native ads that have been paid for on BuzzFeed, we can say that we have data for all of the native ads paid for by these 51 companies. If you have a list of extra companies that can be included then please get in touch below the line or email We would also love to hear tips and suggestions on how we can improve this data.

Social sharing stats were collected at 10.30pm Feb 9th 2014.

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