Tasty's Growth Formula for Making Content "Go Viral"

At some point in the last month, 25% of average Facebook users scrolled through their newsfeeds and stopped for at least 3 seconds on a certain type of autoplaying video. That video showed a pair of disembodied hands preparing food at super speed, probably containing cheese, bacon, biscuit dough or chocolate.

Those elements are key ingredients to the growth fueling Tasty, Buzzfeed's wide-reaching and profitable video business that will power its anticipated IPO next year.

What does Tasty's choice of video content have to do with growth, and monetization? This week, we'll take a look at how Tasty's growth exemplifies the challenges and best-case successes of a media company, and how to design content to “go viral” not just once, but (nearly) every time.

A content format designed for growth

Unlike most food businesses, Tasty didn’t start because of an innate passion around food. Instead, it was an outgrowth of an internal experiment initiated in reaction to Facebook making videos autoplay by default in 2014.

Internal Buzzfeed data showed that the videos that generated the highest engagement fulfilled the following criteria:

  1. They were as close to 40 seconds in length as possible.
  2. They worked equally as well with or without sound
  3. They contained a “hook” that would immediately draw a viewer in within the first 3 seconds, which is the threshold to count as a video view within Facebook’s metrics system.

Buzzfeed sent a mandate to all departments to start producing experimental videos that met these three requirements as closely as possible, and called the project “FB40.” Of all the videos the company tested, the recipe genre was the type that took off the most with this “snack-sized” format.

Prior to Tasty, traditional recipe videos typically ran 5 - 7 minutes in length, dictated by the duration between television ad breaks. Squeezed down into a tight 40 seconds, what emerged was a no-fluff video format that dramatically increased viewer engagement:

  • At its peak, Tasty was doing over 3 billion video views a month, making it the top rated video channel in all of Facebook.
  • Collectively, people watched more Tasty recipes in a single quarter than they watched the Food Network over the course of its entire lifetime.

Growth via intentional viral content distribution

Within the Facebook ecosystem, having a large base of followers provides any content piece — including video — with an initial boost of momentum.

But, what determines over 90% of view counts hinges on people’s subsequent willingness to engage with a video with Likes and Shares. Share rate is Tasty’s primary metric.

This poses a challenge for content businesses whose primary distribution hinges on social channels. Share rate is a difficult metric to influence, and therefore to build growth into, because each video stands on its own.

For example, one video “going viral” only minimally influences the success of next video. One success may grow a brand's total follower audience, therefore building a larger base for initial momentum, but does not directly affect whether or not a later video will get lots of Likes and Shares.

Tasty made itself into a hit machine with a viral loop built to optimize the constraints of specific channels, and accelerated by the unique quality and “viral design” of its content.