What is PlayBuzz, and how did it become successful enough to surpass BuzzFeed and Huffington Post in Facebook shares?

PlayBuzz recently rose to fame when it garnered 58 million unique monthly visitors in September 2014, beating out similar sites like Upworthy and SB Nation. During that same month, it also earned 7.6 million Facebook shares, surpassing BuzzFeed.

Unlike BuzzFeed, which creates most of its content in-house, PlayBuzz positioned itself as a platform, not a publisher. In other words, PlayBuzz provides the technology for users to build and embed their own polls, lists, and quizzes. Then, it rakes in the engagement:

So, what can you learn from this viral supernova? At Fractl, we produced a viral marketing case study analyzing what contributed to the success of PlayBuzz.

1. Viral Content Frequently Evokes Emotions Of Surprise & Anticipation

In our research on viral emotions, we found the two most frequently reported emotions were surprise and anticipation. Quizzes, polls, trivia, and ranked lists — forms of playful content that PlayBuzz specializes in — entice audiences to participate and discover the outcome.

Whether testing their knowledge of history or imagining survival techniques in the zombie apocalypse, users are invested in completing the activity because they are eager to find out how it will end. This transition from mere media consumption to true media engagement gives users an active role in the content.

2. Positive Emotions Are Also Central To Viral Content

Our research also found that positive emotions correlate highly to initial views. This is a crucial point for content platforms: Earning the initial click is half the battle in user engagement.

Playful content wins big at generating positive emotions because users are excited to participate in order to showcase their knowledge, share their preferences, or learn more about themselves. Beyond the positive association with participation, the topics themselves can build on a user’s warm regard for a particular piece of content.

Pop culture themes can quickly and easily inspire amusement or positive associations among fans; but, serious subjects such as science and literature are also successful in playful, interactive formats. These two examples alone have garnered more than 4 million Facebook interactions.

3. Playful Formats Can Often Be Emotionally Complex, Challenging Either Our Knowledge About A Subject Or Ideas About Ourselves

Another popular theme in PlayBuzz content is self-discovery — it is so popular, in fact, that all 10 of the most shared quizzes from 2014 contain the word “you” or “your.” Part of this can be attributed to the theory of confirmation bias, which asserts that people are more willing to engage with ideas that confirm something they already believe or identify with.

There is no subject more well-known to someone than themselves, making identity-based questions and quizzes incredibly compelling for audiences.

4. 44% Of Social Media Users Want To Entertain When They Share Content

When we asked 1,000 social media users what is most important to them when they share content online, 44% ranked entertaining their friends, followers, and social circles as the most important factor.

PlayBuzz offers an extensive library of material to choose from, including categories such as education, psychology, geography, politics, and more. Users can easily find content that will appeal to nearly anyone on their friends list.

5. 25% Want To Educate When They Share Content

In the same survey, 25% of respondents ranked their desire to educate their digital social circles as the most important factor. As a test of knowledge or a tool to reveal a new insight, the quiz format excels.

Trivia and poll formats can also serve to highlight information about past or current events, as we saw with Senator Rand Paul’s “Fact Check” during the 2015 State of the Union Address. Whether users share in order to challenge their friends or show their savvy, interactive content is well suited to serve the purpose of education on social media.

6. The Most Important Value People Consider When Sharing Online Is Demonstrating That They Care About Their Relationships

Eighty-four percent (84%) of users ranked being a good friend as the most important value they consider when sharing content online.

Sharing interactive content enables users to achieve this goal by:

  1. Demonstrating to their social circles that they want to share a moment of enjoyment and entertainment.
  2. Indicating that they care about their friends’ results, creating a further point of social contact and engagement.
  3. Establishing a social image of the themes and ideals with which they want to be associated.

7. Quizzes Are Optimized For Facebook, Where The Vast Majority Of Sharing Takes Place

The design of PlayBuzz’s content is smart in its appeal to people’s innate curiosities and also in its easy integration with the world’s largest social media platform. Over eighty percent (81.9%) of sharing happens on Facebook; additionally, PlayBuzz quizzes display easily within newsfeeds and can be included as menu options in Pages.

PlayBuzz’s content and design are so well matched with Facebook’s platform, in fact, that PlayBuzz earned more shares and comments than any other online publisher in NewsWhip’s most recent engagement report.

8. Knowledge-Based Verbs Are Highly Viral In Headlines

Language can contribute significantly to content’s success on social media; particular keywords can earn drastically more traffic and shares if promoted correctly.

In our study on sharing patterns on each platform, we found that knowledge-based verbs (action words like “know,” “think,” and “understand”) tend to earn more shares than others.

This insight is an advantage for PlayBuzz, since its playful content generally revolves around testing a user’s knowledge. The trend may be a result of the rising popularity of this kind of content as well.

The Role Of Playful Content In Social Media

Playful content has risen to dominate social media because versatile, interactive formats appeal so easily to users’ feelings of anticipation and positive associations. By pairing this insight with a social-media-friendly platform, PlayBuzz has positioned its content to earn huge returns in engagement, completion, and social shares.

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