The digital world is an amazing amazon full of opportunities, but sometimes these opportunities carry a poison pill with them. Here is a story.
Buzzfeed is very much unlike the traditional media companies that have dominated the landscape in the twentieth century. First of all – it does not need to rely on a physical medium for distribution, neither is depended on a distribution schedule. Buzzfeed’s founders didn’t need to contract with third parties to print and distribute a paper, neither with studio owners and distribution channels to have a show on air. So far, the business model doesn’t sound too different form the ones of other media companies born and bred online. What if I also told you that Buzzfeed didn’t rely on its editorial team to source its viral listicles?
Buzzfeed’s team designed an algorithm that allowed them to source the content on the internet that is on the curb of becoming viral. It went a bit like this: ‘check that Tumblr post – it’s getting traction, check it out!’. The team at Buzzfeed would promptly check out the piece of content and, if suitable for the demographic of the website, repackage in one of the formats iconic to Buzzfeed’s content, and suggest it to its readers. The internet crawling algorithm did the company wonders, helping it reaching a larger and larger audience that the company has been able to monetize in several ways. From more traditional forms of digital advertising where companies would pay to have display banners on Buzzfeed’s website, to more sophisticated forms of native ads – through sponsored and native content. As long as Buzzfeed promised the eyeballs, advertisers trying to reach the unreachable millennials would show up at their door.
Insisting so much on data and on repackaging content sourced on the internet, Buzzfeed started receiving bad press from other media companies, accusing it of plagiarism (note though that online media is still a but the wild west, hence an accusation of plagiarism doesn’t got that far). I believe this was a bit of a wake up call for the management of the company: Buzzfeed is a new media company, not a news aggregator. We’ve seen initiatives in the past couple of years where the company has moved to creating and building a team of journalists writing articles that have more serious content than gifs of dancing cats.
Buzzfeed is doing a terrific job at keeping their content platform relevant and current. As content is becoming more and more a commodity and curation is becoming the real differentiator for news outlets, Buzzfeed’s management is managing to handling being present where the eyeballs are: they have a very strong technology (thanks to the acquisition of Kingfish Labs) that allows them to optimize their Facebook ads, but also, they have been closely partnering with Snapchat, where they are one of the most prominent content providers in the ‘discovery’ section of the social media platform.