OMG! BuzzFeed Canada has arrived.
More than a year after making its first Canadian hire, BuzzFeed officially launched its Canadian edition on Wednesday.
The media company now has a local staff of eight, including six editors and reporters creating content for the Canadian market and two sales staffers. The new team is operating out of a shared office space in downtown Toronto recently vacated by Twitter Canada.
BuzzFeed is entering the market with a sizable audience. According to the company, the American edition receives 10 million unique monthly visitors from Canada (when visiting BuzzFeed.com, visitors now have the option of selecting either the U.S. or Canadian version of the site).
That’s more than Metro’s 1.1 million monthly uniques or the National Post‘s 2 million, as listed in their respective media kits. It’s also roughly the same number of monthly unique visits (10.3 million, according to its media site) Quebecor sees across all of its online properties, like Canoe.ca, Autonet and Le Journal de Québec.
Two more stats: 75% of BuzzFeed’s traffic comes from social referrals and 65% of its audience is mobile. Those eyeballs, combined with BuzzFeed’s ad-friendly mix of lighthearted content and news, have attracted brands from Canada including Walmart, Diageo, Toyota, TSN, Travel Alberta and Rogers (which owns Marketing), all of which ran BuzzFeed campaigns targeting Canadians on the U.S. edition before its official launch north of the border.
Traffic was a main driver behind Diageo’s decision to advertise with BuzzFeed, according to the company’s vice-president of marketing, Iain Chalmers. When launching Smirnoff Double Black in Canada, Diageo turned to BuzzFeed in the U.S. to reach its target of 19 to 24-year-old men. Among that cohort, few sites are as popular as Buzzfeed. It worked with Diageo to create a video that featured the product, but had the same look and feel as editorial.
“We had a great experience with BuzzFeed,” Chalmers said. “The video helped drive strong awareness for the brand, with approximately one million views, and was in the top five most viewed videos on YouTube. We’re looking forward to their Canadian presence and creating more great Canadian content.”
Aside from campaigns for the aforementioned brands, BuzzFeed had been testing content aimed specifically at Canadians on the U.S. version of its site (sample: Canadian KD Vs. American Mac ‘N’ Cheese), created by a Canadian staffer at its New York office.
Then last spring a team of BuzzFeed executives, including the company’s director of brand strategy, Keith Hernandez, visited Canada for what he called the “BuzzFeed Road Show” – a series of 40 meetings with local agencies and marketers to gauge their interest in a local BuzzFeed office. What he heard was enough to validate the company’s hypothesis it could make a go of it in the Canadian market.
The next step was hiring Justin Bastedo, who’d previously been an account executive and manager at CraveOnline and Mindshare, as brand strategy manager for Canada last May. That same month, BuzzFeed launched Canadian social media accounts, publicly signaling its interest in the market.
Since January 2013 Hernandez said the site’s Canadian traffic has boomed, growing from 2.3 million monthly uniques to its current 10 million. Interest from advertisers has also grown, creating the need for an office. “We saw an increased demand from smart clients, smart brands, smart agencies, who really got what we were up to and wanted to learn more. We wanted to make sure we had a presence as quickly and efficiently as possible to get to them.”
For its founding editor, BuzzFeed Canada has selected Craig Silverman, who’s served as a PBS editor, a columnist for the Toronto Star and the Columbia Journalism Review, and is known in journalism circles for his blog, Regret The Error.
BuzzFeed Canada will not have a traditional publisher. Instead, the sales staff will report to Hernandez, who will oversee the business side of the Canadian operations.
South of the border, BuzzFeed recently faced criticism for deleting posts due to advertiser pressure. After a story broke about three deleted posts, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith released a public memo outlining the company’s internal review concerning the posts as well as its approach to advertisers and editorial control.
In Canada, Silverman said he plans to maintain the separation of church and state. “You have to have it separate, otherwise you ruin both,” he said. “Certainly [the sales staff] are our colleagues at the company, but in terms of what we’re planning and doing and what they’re planning and doing, there’s no discussion.”
As for Silverman’s plans for BuzzFeed Canada’s editorial, he said to expect a mix of “buzz” style listicles and harder hitting news. Heading into launch, Silverman made hires with an eye to covering politics in particular, given the upcoming federal election. This was the impetus for selecting former Chronical Herald reporter Paul McLeod as BuzzFeed Canada’s politics editor. More hires on both the editorial and sales side are expected soon.
Hernandez said the company’s approach to Canada up until this point was slow and steady to learn from, and build relationships with advertisers. The biggest lesson so far: Canada has its own nuances. While it’s culturally similar to the U.S., Hernandez said BuzzFeed has recognized the market demands a different approach, both in terms of content and relationships with advertisers.
“We don’t want to go out egotistically thinking one BuzzFeed story’s going to work [everywhere]. We want it to be globally consistent with the framework of what BuzzFeed is, but be locally relevant,” he said. “We didn’t want to take all of our prejudices, all of our learnings from the United States and just slap a Canada flag on it and say, ‘Go for it.'”