A recent BuzzFeed presentation inspired me to consider how marketers and publishers are tapping into nostalgia to push engagement online. Appealing to a consumer’s sense of nostalgia is just one approach BuzzFeed recommends to crafting content readers will share with their friends.

This is not a subjective statement considering that BuzzFeed had 100 million unique visitors in January — and half of them clicked through from shared BuzzFeed content.

The power of nostalgia is no surprise. It’s always been popular; but it’s taken on increased popularity in the last few years.

Online: Throwback Thursday, #tbt, and apps like Time Hop

Offline: The demand for vinyl records and the renewed popularity of Polaroid cameras have moved from the subculture and firmly taken root with a broader consumer audience.

Mash Up: Somewhere old and new are mixing together, including the 8-bit, “chiptune” music movement and a hack porting the defunct Flappy Bird to the Commodore 64.

These examples suggest there are endless opportunities to tap into the consumer appeal of the past.

Nostalgia & Content Creation?
If you’re wondering how to apply nostalgia in your editorial strategy, there is no single, silver bullet answer — per usual. It (always) goes back to how well you know your brand and your consumer. But here are some articles that will make it easier for you to tap nostalgia for deeper content engagement.

1) How the Internet Uses Nostalgia  |  The Atlantic: This story does a great job showing how the Internet has changed our sense of nostalgia. “Under the stewardship of the Internet, nostalgia has been made nimble. Our tenuous relationship with the past can now be customized and made relevant, in the manner of a marketing message. We search for a lost time. It’s just that our seeking now stretches beyond our own meager memories.”

2) Are Quizzes the New Lists? What BuzzFeed’s Latest Viral Success Means for Publishing  |  Nieman Journalism Lab: BuzzFeed’s recent quiz blitzkrieg is based on the format’s popularity with readers.

“From Teen Beat to Cosmo to LiveJournal, quizzes are “reminiscent of playground games and give readers something that they relate to well enough that they share it with others. Quizzes lend themselves to mobile because people are taking them with friends or administering them to each other. In that way, they go from being digitally social to a literally social game for users.”

3) What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit Research Shows  |  New York Times: Before 1999, anyone feeling homesick might have been described as suffering from a psychological disorder called nostalgia. Scientests then began researching nostalgia to show it can counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. The article also reviews other benefits and potential downsides.

4) Go Retro or Go Home: A Content Lesson from Genral Mills  |  Yahoo! Small Business: “It’s all about going back to your roots. Don’t forget the fans who have been with you from the very beginning, and do something special once in awhile that acknowledges them.”

Applying Best (or Worst) Practices
For every best practice around nostalgia, I could probably point to a worst practice. And perhaps the quiz is one and the same. But instead of arguing  about quizzes, let’s consider the bigger picture of what BuzzFeed is doing.

BuzzFeed uses data to spot trends, optimize their editorial approach and capitalize on consumer interest as quickly as possible. And during the “bonus round” of quizzes we’re experiencing, they’re probably testing and learning from other forms of content. This broader approach is critical to content creation.

#ProTip: Ask Why, Not What
The abuse or overuse of a popular industry tactic, tool or approach is nothing new. So it’s important for me to note that when it comes to quizzes, nostalgia or the next shiny new topic, we shouldn’t simply chase someone else’s success. I can point to a few examples of brands that tried to do this on the heels of Oreo’s “Super Bowl Real-Time Marketing / Out of Body Experience / omigoditwassofu(k*ngawesomewheeeee!™”

There are plenty of good reasons to consider if nostalgia fits your editorial efforts. But like everything else we do, if we can’t answer WHY we’re doing it, the next question becomes “should we be doing it at all?”

Image via FALL magazine

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