BuzzFeed is relying on two areas of its business to get through the uncertain economy and hopefully grow revenue in 2023, the company said during its fourth quarter earnings call: artificial intelligence and its creator network.
While the publisher’s AI experiments and its application of the technology within its quiz business are unique in the market, its creator network is not entirely original in the media landscape. So there is competition for BuzzFeed when it comes to vying for ad dollars that are earmarked for influencer and social media campaigns, which poses a challenge.
To address this challenge, BuzzFeed is hoping to tempt media buyers and ad clients with its proprietary campaign measuring tool, the BuzzFeed Creator Score. The tool generates a grade for creator-made branded content an ads, determining their efficacy. And its use is expanding to include predicting how impactful a campaign will be based on factors including which creator is paired with the brand, which platform the campaign runs on and even what the creative is within the campaign.
Scores are based on a percentile scale of zero to 100, with 50 being the average score across all of BuzzFeed’s brands. On average, creator campaigns — both branded content and other ad types — net out in the middle of that range, according to Nadel. And of the top five highest scoring ads, three feature creators.
BuzzFeed’s Creator Score is determined primarily through audience engagement metrics like click-through rates and video completion rates, which are set against the company’s ad accounts versus organic pages. When asked how a platform’s overall performance impacts how scores are determined — for example, Facebook has been lagging as a traffic driver for BuzzFeed over the past few quarters — Jason Nadel, BuzzFeed’s senior director of revenue operations and social discovery, said thresholds are set to make sure that scores aren’t based on a low audience sample size.
The first version of the BuzzFeed Creator Score wasn’t actually linked to the creators that BuzzFeed works with at all, however.
Collaboration with creators
First built in 2018 by Nadel, the Creator Score’s intended use was to solve the internal question of which piece of branded content performed best and then how could the publisher get more eyeballs on it. But after putting it into use, Nadel said the external applications for the score became more evident. The sales team could incorporate it into pre- and post-deal conversations, but the tool could also be used to measure how successful the creators in BuzzFeed’s creator network were at producing branded content and ads for BuzzFeed’s clients.
“What it’s turned into is a focus on creators specifically as this has become a much bigger priority in our product suite,” said Nadel. “It’s really powerful to figure out [which] audiences are engaging with the content and interacting with the content, and we share that directly with the creators. They can see which versions of their ads perform best and which audiences perform best.”
This, in turn, helps creators get better at producing branded content, and gives BuzzFeed more concrete data to help develop the 100-plus creators in their network and outside the network as well.
“Increasingly, as you talk to more creators, they need help and would love to see cross-platform data,” said Ken Blom, BuzzFeed’s evp of business strategy and operations. He added that creators who are native to TikTok may be more confident about creating branded content for that platform, but less so when it comes to Instagram or Facebook. The Creator Score tool becomes a “differentiator” in giving those creators the assistance they need to figure out more definitively what does or doesn’t work for their audiences on other channels, Blom added.
Creators who score low are not demonetized or kicked out of the BuzzFeed Creator Network, however, Blom clarified. Instead, that low score is factored into future deals and can help to determine ill-fitting pairings between creators and brands. And while revenue-share deals are negotiated upfront with creators, he added that scores do factor into future campaigns. (He would not provide further context around what average revenue share deals look like or how the scores impact negotiations.)
“I don’t usually hold it against a creator if they had a bad campaign. There are so many variables,” Nadel added.
In the world of influencer marketing, what BuzzFeed is doing with Creator Score is all but expected nowadays on the creator side of things.
For instance, what BuzzFeed is offering to creators doesn’t seem to be too dissimilar to how their managers and talent representatives provide feedback, according to Gabe Gordon, co-founder of social shop Reach Agency. “They’re acting like a talent management group to some level, which they should, because their success is based on the performance of the creator in their content,” he said.
Selling creator campaigns with the score component
On the ad side, the Creator Score is not meant to be the end-all be-all for how BuzzFeed measures its campaigns. Instead, it’s an additive for overall campaign improvement. Brand lift studies and key performance indicator results like click-through rates are still factored into post-campaign analysis, Nadel said.
“Campaign success isn’t necessarily just tied to this one score … [but] what I think this score is really useful for is uncovering what may be missed if you just focus on those [KPI] metrics,” Nadel said. Working together with the Creator Score, those metrics can help deduce “the best combination of variables” that provides for the best outcome for a creator-led campaign, Nadel added.
When it comes to media buyers, they’re split on whether BuzzFeed’s tool is being used by the publisher to grade its own homework. One buyer said that without third-party validation confirming the score, their trust in the data is ultimately diluted. But on the other hand, some data is better than no data when it comes to measuring the success of a campaign.
That buyer also said the Creator Score would only be considered a value add to a campaign if the creators that their clients were able to access were exclusive to BuzzFeed. Otherwise, there are so many other cross-platform tools to measure talent that the Creator Score becomes redundant in the industry.
Meanwhile, Ross McCormack, vp of influencer marketing at Havas Media Group North America, said that because the influencer marketing space has become so saturated, having the size and quality of BuzzFeed’s Creator Network is seen as an additive, especially if a client’s specific goal for a campaign is media efficiency. In that case, the Creator Score tool could help BuzzFeed close the deal with advertisers.
What it ultimately seems to come back to is how exclusive the BuzzFeed Creator Network is in the first place, which determines the value of the Creator Score.
“If [BuzzFeed] has an exclusive talent roster or established deals with creators that uncover cost efficiencies, then that, in connection with the new measurement feature, could be very compelling from a buyer’s perspective,” said Jay Powell, svp of communications and influencer at MMI Agency.