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Ah, Buzzfeed. You have provided me with so many moments of joy, like the time I ROFL’d all the way through your extensive analysis of Home Alone during the holidays. You made me feel so popular when I got 63 Facebook Likes after sharing your article called, “Top 9 Signs You Went to the College that You Went to.”(Wait…what?)
Yet, there are times when I loathe your existence. One can only take quizzes on which Hogwarts house they belong in, what city they should live in, what color underwear describes their personality, and what Nintendo character they are before they grow weary.
With 85 million unique visitors last month, BuzzFeed is the 14th most popular site according to Quantcast. Surely, a site publishing more animal GIFs than news stories couldn’t become the most visited “news” site, right? There’s no way they could beat out the likes of Huffington Post (more on this later), CNN, and NBCnews – by a hefty margin, right? Wrong. BuzzFeed has become a major player on the Internet, but things just don’t add up. This leaves us to ask ourselves, “Who are you, BuzzFeed?”
Our story begins in 2001, when MIT grad student Jonah Peretti was attempting to order a pair of custom kicks from Nike iD. The popular shoe customization tool allows you to add text to certain pairs of Nike shoes, to which Peretti ordered a pair embellished with the text “sweatshop.”
Following an amusing string of emails between a Nike customer service rep and Peretti, Peretti forwarded the email exchange to 10 friends. These friends forwarded on the email to others, and essentially began, what we would call today, going viral. Within 6 weeks, the email had spread so far that Peretti was asked to go on the Today Show to debate Nike’s labor practices with a Nike rep.
Today, Nike runs native advertising campaigns with BuzzFeed.
Jonah Peretti was brought on to the Huffington Post team to develop the back-end of the news site. HuffPost began as a news aggregator, pulling in stories from other sites on the web, and presenting a short write up regarding the piece and a link to the site with the full article.
Peretti’s approach of creating content that gamed the Google algorithms, by making titles of pieces questions commonly searched for (ie-What day are the Olympic Opening Ceremonies), was ranking Huffington Post in the top few spots of every query imaginable.
The good times were cut short for Peretti when Founder Arriana Huffington made the decision to move Huffington Post towards becoming a traditional news source. Peretti left the Huffington Post, but it would be safe to assume he got his piece of the $315 million buyout by AOL.
It’s been said almost everywhere, but in case you haven’t noticed, BuzzFeed does not run any sort of banner ads. Their revenue comes from native advertising campaigns that can run upwards of $100,000 per month.
The reason BuzzFeed is able to charge rates of that magnitude is because of you. The amount of traffic the site generates is their main bargaining chip, and brands such as HBO, IBM, and Dunkin Donuts are more than willing to shell out the dough in order to get in front of BuzzFeed’s unrivaled amount of traffic.
They travel the globe with platform shoes and polyester suits, winning every dance contest they’ve entered from New York to Tokyo.
BuzzFeed’s “Disco Team” is how they refer to their Social Discovery team. This team essentially curates all of BuzzFeed’s articles through Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and a few other social networks. A large chunk of this Social Discovery push comes in the form of sponsored content on these sites, which recently has been on the upswing – especially with changes in Facebook’s algorithm for deciding what gets displayed in your News Feed.
When 35% of your site’s traffic comes from Facebook, having a dedicated team to “Do the Hustle” on getting content in front of eyes is about as important as matching up your 3-piece suit with the most funkadelic poofy tie possible.
As much as we all want to believe that BuzzFeed and its writers have a gift of being able to write about things that apply to 95% of readers, that type of “editorial mind-reading” just doesn’t exist. Rather, BuzzFeed has developed an extensive network of more than 200 partner sites that make up the BuzzFeed Media Network.
This network began in the early stages of BuzzFeed, when the site employed no writers or editors, and simply would aggregate articles from across the web that showed signs of going viral. In exchange for aggregating these pieces, BuzzFeed had these partners place code on their sites that allowed them to follow the traffic of users on each site.
The company keeps the data they gather under tight wraps, but they are able to see what types of content are being viewed and for how long, which gives them a pretty solid idea of what will be popular on their site in the upcoming days based on traffic trends.
Reddit, the world of “subreddits” that cover everything from r/femalefashionadvice to r/stolendogbeds, has become BuzzFeed’s main source of inspiration for its work, and Reddit users (more commonly referred to as Redditors) are not very happy.
Many of BuzzFeed’s most popular pieces – that have generated the site millions of views – and revenue from advertisers have come almost directly from Reddit. Here is an example of an Ask Reddit thread that turned into a BuzzFeed article less than 4 days later.
Multiple new sources have reported on this “phenomenon,” such a Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, who unveiled BuzzFeed’s tactics with his article, “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.”
Redditors have begun fighting back, sending BuzzFeed DCMA requests, that are resulting in BuzzFeed’s removal of stories and leaving notifications like this one.
We’ve all see the article about the most beautiful places in the world. It’s loaded with images of white-sand beaches, mountain retreats, and old-world architecture. While the globe is filled with beautiful places, doesn’t it seem like the same places in Bora Bora, Switzerland, and Iceland end up on these lists?
Looking back to 2012, BBCAmerica ran a native ad campaign that included an article titled “10 Beautiful Places You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” One month later, Pepsi Next’s campaign had an article titled “10 Beautiful Places in the World that Actually Exist.” Fast forward to the end of the year, and Campbell’s Go Soups campaign released an article called “10 Place That Are Almost Too Beautiful to be Real.” Finally, one year from the first post, a BuzzFeed staff writer released this gem, titled “28 Incredibly Beautiful Places You Won’t Believe Actually Exist.” Would you be surprised to learn that the majority of the places in the BuzzFeed staffer’s article are the same exact places as the previous three articles? You can view them for yourself here, here, here, and here.
While BuzzFeed currently sits at the top of the “news” world, other sites are not far behind, and are gaining ground quickly. Sites like Viral Nova, Upworthy, and PolicyMic, have all seen substantial growth in their traffic, mostly due to social sharing – the same model that rose BuzzFeed to prominence.
In a recent Fast Company article, Upworthy’s growth due to social sharing has earned it the title of “fastest growing site on the internet” with 58% of its traffic coming from Facebook. In comparison, BuzzFeed gets 32% of traffic from Facebook. Viral Nova, at 65% of traffic from Facebook, and PolicyMic, with 34% Faceb0ok referral traffic, have both been able to piggyback on the successful model of BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed plans to become the next go-to site for breaking news. Some people only see it as a home for listicles, while I personally see it as a clog in my Facebook News Feed. Your turn: where do you see BuzzFeed heading in the next year? Five years? Ten years?”