BuzzFeed: Let them have gifs!

For Business of Journalism (NNS 525) with Kathy Vey, Ryerson University

Let’s begin with some Exciting News in the World of Journalism: BuzzFeed is opening an office in the city I’m writing from, Toronto! I’m looking forward to seeing what the company’s first Canadian team will do.

Speaking of BuzzFeed, founder and CEO Jonah Peretti recently gave a keynote address at SXSW, an Austin-based conference and festival celebrating music, film, and interactive. He spoke about the company’s distributed-media strategy. With 900 employees globally, more than one billion monthly views, and over 200 million monthly uniques, BuzzFeed’s might in the media industry is undeniable — like it or lump it. Peretti, at the helm of this success story, is definitely somebody industry watchdogs and hopefuls should listen to.

Peretti says that he never intended to make a website for millennials, but he did want to make one that would lean into the way people consume media. His philosophy is about constant learning and improving, and he thinks brands that are always looking to get better can create the possibility of huge success.

According to Peretti, BuzzFeed is not focused on clicks and page views. Rather, it is about communication, shared emotions, and the power of content connecting people. It’s true that the website has a unique ability to get users to draw in a greater audience. A set of gifs accurately depicting a situation causes thousands of users to tag their friends — saying, “Remember that time?” or “This is so us.” Sharing drives larger conversations about viewers’ personal experiences with the content they see.

The company asks questions about not only its scale and reach, but its impact. Peretti says that we need to ask ourselves, how can we expand and grow impact? BuzzFeed measures content with these understandings:

  • emotion is as important as information
  • sharing is meaningful, but impact is even more meaningful
  • connecting with the audience is more important than where the content lives

These values are reflected in the company’s distributed-media strategy. Growing impact is directly tied to greater distribution, so BuzzFeed pushes out the content from its website in order to reach more people. Placing content into native players enables users to start consuming it wherever and whenever they see it online. This is a move from vertical integration to network integration. BuzzFeed gathers talented creative professionals, gives them the tools to create great content, and sends the content out to their website, their apps, and other platforms. Peretti describes this method as “cascades of sharing that go across multiple networks.”

How does BuzzFeed’s approach align with Peretti’s philosophy of learning and improving? The company can observe the ripple effect of distribution throughout the web, not just on its own turf. It allows so much more learning to happen — because to be sustainable, even a global media giant needs to get better everyday.

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