BuzzFeed: The Start Of A New Publishing Era?
Publishing was profit, now it is perish. Is the end of the publishing era near? Or is BuzzFeed showing us the start of a new publishing era?
In a declining print publishing market, BuzzFeed keeps growing fast. It is now already engaging an audience of over 30 million people every month.
What is their secret? How have they re-engineered publishing? How is it possible that one of the ugliest sites out there is becoming the Web’s most beloved new publisher?
In this post-digital revolution era, only disruptive and non-linear thinking will enable us to break through conventions and realize the growth we need so badly.
This is exactly what BuzzFeed has done. It has looked at the social media arena and new actionable social consumer insights: How do people use the social web and what role does content play in it?
With Facebook and Twitter on the rise, BuzzFeed liberated itself from the constricting practice of optimizing its content for search engines like Google.
That’s because sharing became more important than searching as a way for people to find BuzzFeed content.
Jonah Peretti Founder and CEO of BuzzFeed
“We’ve spent two years not looking at Google search numbers,” BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti explained to Business Insider. “A sort of ‘aha’ moment for me was when I got a few e-mails from people saying, ‘I didn’t find anything good to share on BuzzFeed today, I’m upset.”.
So buzzy and viral content, it is what consumers need. So in publishing 2.0, it is not always about writing the best stories. Although that is what old skool and linear publishers mostly tend to think?
Publishing 2.0 around the social web is sometimes more about content #aggregation: Being the best in gathering similar or trending stories or other pieces of content.
Offering people the best of the trending and viral web, all in one place. Nicely wrapped in several top 10’s. Here technology and social monitoring tools can help a lot, to detect what could become the next “trending”, buzzing or viral topic.
Next content #curation is a very important piece of the success. Here editorial teams can play a very important role. They create the “magic sauce” around trending content, like curated top 10’s.
Consumers are eager to look for what’s hot and trending. It enables them to start storytelling on their own social channels, blogs, Facebook or Twitter pages. Being in the know with services and content offered by BuzzFeed, consumers can become influencers among their peers and friends.
Now that is a very important psychological aspect for consumers to stay tuned to BuzzFeed. It enables them to get the attention from the peer group around them. And getting attention of the group is one of the most important “social” drivers for the “screenager” generations.
Founder Jonah Peretti and his magic sauce?
But in the past 2 decades we have seen similar sites like Boreme, Iambored and other portals with stunning content. So what is the real magic sauce that BuzzFeed is adding? And what can traditional publishers learn from nonlinear minds?
Well, not a minor detail in the success formula is Jonah Peretti. Peretti is the founder of “Internet popularity contest” site BuzzFeed, launched in November 2006. He is also the co-founder of the popular political blog Huffington Post.
The 39 year old Peretti’s father is Italian-American and his mother is Jewish (Peretti’s stepmother was African-American). Peretti is a graduate of the MIT Media Lab and best known for his experiments with “contagious” or “viral” media, including the parody website BlackPeopleLoveUs.com, which enthusiastically documents a couple’s rapport among the African-American community.
And a widely-forwarded email thread known as the Nike Sweatshop E-mails in which Peretti exchanges politesse with an anonymous Nike representative over why “sweatshop” was not allowed to be printed on his custom Nike-iD sneakers.
Peretti is member of the New York based artist group Free Art and Technology Lab (AKA FAT Lab). He is the brother of comedian and writer Chelsea Peretti.
With a background from MIT, and comedy in the family, Peretti has an eye for talent. One of the reasons why he recently hired the web’s most famous pioneer, freak and video artist Ze Frank. It takes one, to know one, we could easily state.
But in an interview with Business Insider, Peretti also stated about content: “I care a lot about the quality of the content we create. I care about if we’re moving the conversation, and does our reporting move the conversation?
I care about telling the public new information and breaking a story. I care a lot about whether we’re consistently creating content that people think is worth sharing.
I think about unique visitors as a proxy for, if people are sharing our content, then that should grow our uniques. There are things we could do to juice our uniques that we don’t do, and there are things we can do to juice our page views that we don’t do.
We’re focused on the long term of having really healthy metrics and having people really love the site.”
But besides feeling with big-data and technology, Peretti also seems to understand that content is king. But even more important, he knows that distribution is queen and that metrics is the emperor.
Being a web publisher, BuzzFeed brought its viral web content to a viral radio show, a very smart move that has helped to extend the BuzzFeed brand and its reach.
Before the distribution deal BuzzFeed had 22 million monthly UVs, now that number has grown to 30 million UVs a month.
Millions of dollars ad revenues, without serving a single banner?
With its disruptive business model BuzzFeed is changing the rules in the publishing marketplace.
Where most publishers and media agencies keep focusing 100% at intrusive ad formats like banners and pre-roll videos, BuzzFeed is generating millions of dollars of advertising revenues, without serving a single banner ad.
BuzzFeed doesn’t just want its content to be viral—it wants advertisers to experience virality, too. It’s a good idea in theory—what advertiser wouldn’t want to sponsor an article that millions of people read?
BuzzFeed recently hired former ad-agency executive and Facebook veteran Jeff Greenspan as its chief creative officer, with the mission of boosting so-called “native” advertising—ads that fit into and play off of BuzzFeed’s content, rather than just sitting on the same page like a banner ad.
But it’s difficult to guarantee viral hits, or to convince 22-year-old media buyers to do a lot of extra work buying ad placements that can’t be easily filled out on a spreadsheet or purchased through a trading desk.
Peretti says his ad team, run by BuzzFeed president Jon Steinberg, starts conversations with brands’ chief marketing officers, not junior buyers. BuzzFeed looks for advertisers and agencies with open minds.
Now that BuzzFeed has a few successful campaigns under its belt, like Schick’s Shave The World “Razorbombing” campaign, which generated about 19 million views on BuzzFeed alone, the sales job is getting easier.
“Most advertisers would rather do a BuzzFeed Time Machine sponsored by GE and have all of this cool stuff to show friends, ‘Look what we did with this client!'” says Peretti. “That’s so much better than banner ads. We just need to create campaigns for a few people who are forward thinking so they can see it works and help others get over the fear of trying a customized content sponsorship too.”
Today, BuzzFeed doesn’t have a single banner ad on its site. Eschewing the standard media moneymaker, it will generate what industry sources say is close to $20 million this year.
On the strength of its banner-busting strategy, BuzzFeed raised $15.5 million last year at a deal that, rumor has it, valued the company at as much as $150 million.
To go towards my opinion, I would like to share this video with you. The future of publishing. I have been showing at several keynote speeches I delivered, and it got great feedback from audiences all around the globe:
As former digital agency founder, and founder of viral video tracking technology ViralTracker, both acquired by WPP, and the last year being the global chief social officer at Mindshare I had the pleasure of meeting Ze Frank and Jon Steinberg at WPP Stream events in Athens Greece.
They, as well as Peretti are right: It is extremely difficult to explain a 22 year old media planner the true power of owned and earned media. Same for explaining the value chain content is king, distribution is queen and metrics is the emperor.
Most media agencies tend to think in paid media, not in owned and earned. And even in the field of paid media, banner ads and intrusive pre-rolls are much easier for them to explain to their clients.
Or a bigger problem probably: the difficulty for most planners to understand the POE value chain, the power of an initial seed and the value of viral content.
Most in the media agency world walk around with POE slides, but not many have really understood the POE value chain and distribution framework or earned media.
Peretti and his team have understood many aspects of new publishing and social media. In the social era, people are the new distribution network, that’s why I call distribution queen.
Most of us in the broadcasting, publishing or media business have learned to think in linear ways, it is part of our DNA. Breaking through the conventions with disruptive innovations demands nonlinear thinking and a new sort of DNA.
In the post digital revolution era, it is no longer about reach or media consumption. We need to shift our thinking towards owned media and earned media. Like the Red Bulls and Victoria’s Secrets of this world are already showing to other CMOs: content is king, distribution queen but metrics the emperor.
New ways are beyond the banner ads and intrusive pre-rolls. So I hope several publishers and YouTube are reading along. The social era needs nonlinear minds that can also think in terms of content, earning attention, engagement and sharing.
If you don’t believe me, and doubt me or BuzzFeed, take a look at Vice in the US.
My closing thought?
The linear minds will see the end of a publishing era. From profit to perish.
The non-linear minds however, will ignite the start of a “new publishing era” and make publishing sexy and profitable again.
What About You?
What do you see for 2013: The end of the publishing era? Or the start of a new publishing era? We’d love to read your opinion in the comments below. Sharing, is caring.
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About the Author
Igor Beuker was CMO at 3 listed companies, chairmain at the IAB, jury member at Webby, AMMA and Esprix awards, founder of 2 agencies (both sold to WPP) and global chief social officer at Mindshare. Now he is ‘freejack’ consultant and still a sought after keynote speaker.