The Internet has an insatiable appetite for food content, and BuzzFeed is going big in the category.
The New York-based media startup’s Facebook-only cooking channel, Tasty, now has 30 million followers on Facebook
. Its videos regularly get tens of millions of views.
One month ago, on the back of Tasty’s success, BuzzFeed launched Proper Tasty, another Facebook-only channel for British people who love comfort food. Proper Tasty is the fastest-growing Facebook page BuzzFeed has launched, gathering 3.7 million followers and over 190 million video views in just a month.
Tasty and Proper Tasty can attribute their success to two things: For starters, there’s the content. “It taps into a simple truth: People love tasty foods and the kind of foods that remind them of their childhood, comfort food, or food that reminds them of an experience,” says Frank Cooper, BuzzFeed’s chief marketing officer.
But more importantly, Tasty and Proper Tasty have exploded on Facebook because the content is tailor-made for that platform. These channels exist primarily on Facebook. (Some of my friends who follow Tasty were surprised to learn it was run by BuzzFeed.)
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Tasty and Proper Tasty feature short, fast-motion videos that suck the viewer in. They’re optimized for Facebook’s autoplay feature, which starts playing videos without the sound on. You don’t need sound to see, for example, a 45-second guide to making a cheese-stuffed pizza pretzel. Within 24 hours, that video had 37 million views, 650,000 likes, and 750,000 shares. (It’s now up to 50 million views.)
Tasty and Proper Tasty are early steps in BuzzFeed’s strategy of publishing content directly to social media outlets like Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Instagram, rather than posting links to stories on BuzzFeed.com. Unlike conventional thinking at most media organizations, BuzzFeed is less concerned about driving traffic back to its website.
It makes sense that these Facebook-optimized channels would take off so fast: Facebook’s algorithm favors anything that keeps people on Facebook longer, rather than sending them away to another site. BuzzFeed’s own “Food” vertical, which posts links to stories about food on BuzzFeed.com, only has 14 million views.
Other social channels like Snapchat and Instagram don’t even give content creators the ability to send followers away from their platforms—there’s no option for outside links. (On Instagram, that limitation is a business opportunity. Only paid advertisers can send followers to an outside link.)
Controlling the ‘pipe’
Even if content creators like BuzzFeed can rack up lots of views on social platforms, the cost of developing platform-specific content is high. Media outlets on Snapchat’s Discover channel often dedicate five to 10 people to producing content for the platform. Despite the high investment, they’re desperate to get in. BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos would have to be adapted in order to be reused on other platforms.
On top of the costs, there’s a high risk for publishers that rely on a platform like Facebook or Snapchat to distribute their content. Famous YouTube stars have long complained that they don’t “own” their subscribers. In other words, if they left YouTube they’d have to build up their following again from scratch. The same is true of Facebook, which constantly tweaks its algorithm to favor or suppress certain kinds of content. Algorithm tweaks have tanked entire media businesses (ahem, Upworthy). Of late, Facebook’s algorithm has favored video posts above photos and text-only posts.
To many, outsourcing digital distribution is a repeat of what happened in the web’s earliest days. Everyone wanted their publications to live inside a web portal like AOL, and it seemed mutually beneficial: AOL had the audience but no content to give them, and media organizations (including Time Inc.’s former parent company, Time Warner), had the content but no audience. But those relationships soured and media companies decided it was better to control and operate their own websites.
“Every content provider, every production company, every publisher would like to have control over the pipe,” Cooper says. But since social media platforms are today’s “pipes,” BuzzFeed is working within that construct. The company has mitigated risk by using multiple platforms, giving the company “the distinct advantage of not becoming over-reliant on one platform,” Cooper says.
The biggest advantage BuzzFeed has, for now, is that it can still make money on these other platforms with its native ads. It doesn’t have to rely on Facebook or YouTube to sell ads, because its ads look just like content. (Most famously, there’s the “Dear Kitten” video for Friskies cat food.)
Inserting ads is especially easy for a category like food and beverage. “The whole idea is about food and beverage, so it’s a natural organic integration of brands into that environment,” says Cooper, who came from that industry, previously working as head of global beverages at PepsiCo. Tasty will launch advertising at the end of this month, he says.
The lesson from the launch and fast growth of Proper Tasty is that BuzzFeed plans to go deeper and deeper into specialized niches. It would be easy to assume that BuzzFeed built its giant audience of 200 million people by catering to the broadest possible group of readers. People who love cat videos, say, or people who want to read about Donald Trump’s antics.
But BuzzFeed’s success comes from highly specific content. A recent selection:
“23 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Slightly Obsessed With Michaels,”
“This Is What Happens When You’re A Black Girl Who Can’t Dance,” and
“21 Things For People Who Think Snails Are Cute AF.”
In other words, BuzzFeed is catering to snail lovers, black girls who can’t dance, and people who love the craft store Michaels. “To make any connection to an audience, you have to get fairly specific,” Cooper says. “We’ve always been very specific anyway, from the lists to the quizzes to the videos. We’ve looked at niche audiences and very specific topics and it spreads from there. It’s counterintuitive, but its been a much more powerful impetus for sharing, as opposed to a spray-and-pray approach.”