Read the comments (and other secrets to Tasty’s success)

Buzzfeed's Leigh Riemer shared atypical advice with Atomicon attendees looking to connect with online audiences.

We’re all familiar with the tried and tested internet advice “don’t read the comments.” But Leigh Riemer, in her keynote address at Wednesday’s Atomicon conference, said taking in all the comments on Buzzfeed’s food brand, Tasty, is exactly what’s helped it grow as a media property by increasing its revenue opportunities.

Tasty produces more than 600 pieces of content per day across numerous platforms, although its main output is its famous top-down, time-lapsed cooking videos that are native to Facebook (where it boasts approximately 93 million likes on its page).

Most of Tasty’s revenue comes from brand integrations, with additional income from YouTube pre-roll (it currently has 6.5 million subscribers on the platform) and a new line of physical products such as its recent cookbook (released in December 2017) or its line of kitchen products produced in collaboration with Walmart (available only in the U.S.).

The brand wouldn’t have gotten to its current scale if it had followed the tried-and-tested paths of audience building. For starters, she says, start reading the comments.

Numbers are great, comments are better

Riemer said Tasty’s direction has mostly been shaped by the actual comments people have left, as well as by actively seeking out responses through things like surveys. In her presentation, she focused less on metrics of views and shares.

“In social, a lot of business has been built on shares,” she said. “It’s not that I’m not interested in shares, but they largely mean a blanket share.” She sees the spreading of Tasty’s content as “re-defining shares” to a more user-to-user approach. “The most common thing we see is tagging someone in the comments, because, ‘oh, you would like this.’ And it does rank high on the algorithm.”

She said comments and feedback – none of which Buzzfeed moderates or responds directly to – have also helped Buzzfeed shape Tasty’s creative direction. “When we got comments that a lot of our stuff was not so healthy, maybe a little too much cheese, we launched Goodful,” she said, referring to Tasty’s health-focused sub brand.

It’s also launched other sub brands and different market iterations such as Tasty Kids, Tasty Vegetarian, the British-themed Proper Tasty and Tasty Japan. Riemer said “emotional” responses were the key to shaping those brands. Comments such as “this reminds me of a dish my Grandma used to make” or “this reminds me of when I was a kid” have helped Tasty hone in on a more geared-to-the-users strategy, she said.

Proactive data might be overrated

When Tasty began three years ago, Riemer said the team wasn’t even sure what it was going to be. “We knew we wanted it to be video, and that was about it,” she said. It wasn’t until after food videos got a strong response that the team jumped on the format in earnest. She said that pattern has been consistent for Tasty – waiting patiently for feedback rather than trying to identify the “next big thing” and going full force.

“It was a bit reactive, which is not typical,” she said. “We looked at where the audiences were and we built there… [where] audiences are organically engaging with our content.”

Brand loyalty is not what it used to be

Riemer said the very concept of brand loyalty has changed, simply because there are more brands in every space, and everyone is fighting for market share. At the same time, Tasty is what it is because of brand loyalty – so how does it maintain that in a very fragmented landscape (and one where, Riemer admits, numerous other companies are copycatting Tasty’s style)?

The approach Tasty took was anything but protectionist. It put out tutorials on how to properly shoot top-down food videos and time-lapse it. “People weren’t doing it as good [as us] and it was kind of ruining our IP.” The brand opted to otherwise leave the competition alone and focus on expanding and diversifying, taking that all-important user feedback and creating a better product. “It doesn’t really matter if people copy every single way me move,”Riemer said. “Our audience trusts us.”

Scale is not the most important thing

“Anyone can buy scale,” Riemer said, but observing repeat behaviour from brand loyalists has led Tasty to far more successes.

She said initially, Tasty thought of itself like a media network rather than a brand. But now, thinking like a brand has helped it achieve better ROI than simply thinking about scale and reach. For example, when viewers said they’re interested in tech that makes cooking easier, Tasty developed the Tasty One-Touch, a single-element burner that is controlled and timed through smartphones. “We wouldn’t have known to do that because we started as a network,” she said. Instead of thinking of how to engage with more people, Riemer said, it thought of ways to build on relationships it already had.

Neither are demographics

Some demographics lack an emotional touch, said Riemer. “I’m becoming less interested in demographic data,” she told the audience. Instead, she wants to know what resonates with people culturally. That way, she said, “I can have an emotional relationship versus a practical one.”

She said understanding what other areas followers are interested in and learning their personal values gives Tasty more information that knowing age, gender, location or whether or not they have children. In the future, the brand is considering establishing a physical presence to events such as music festivals, which she said is informed more by psychographics than demographics.

Trends are worth trying

Sometimes a risk in content pays off, said Riemer. And if it doesn’t, it can be surprisingly easy to walk away from. When Buzzfeed began to notice the trend of “sheet pan baking” (cooking all the elements of your meal on a single pan at the same temperature in order to save time and space), it began investing in those kinds of recipes. “We capitalized on it… but what’s cool about trends is that if it doesn’t become a thing, it doesn’t matter. People don’t know that we were trying to make that a trend. We use it quickly and if we fail quickly, that’s fine.”

Atomicon is hosted by MiC’s sister publications strategy and Playback.