BuzzFeed is a web-based media provider that covers a range of topics including politics, entertainment, sports, and “20 Reasons Bacon is Awesome.”1 Originally known for memes, lists, and funny photos that some call clickbait and “mostly nonsense”2, BF now also provides higher-quality, long-form material. Content is both internally curated and externally sourced, with the primary goal that it be shareable and ultimately viral. BuzzFeed’s business and operating models are effectively aligned to accomplish this.
Business Model: Come for pictures of cute animals, stay for the article on civil rights, check out this disguised advertisement, NOW SHARE THIS WITH ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS
BuzzFeed’s business model revolves around creating content that will be virally shared. More often than other media sources, customers come to BF’s website as a result of a friend sharing a link. “Facebook is a more powerful traffic driver than direct visits…social accounts for “well over 50%” of BuzzFeed’s total visitors.”3 Users more often go to BuzzFeed’s website when friends ask them to, not when BuzzFeed asks them to. Other media sources depend more heavily on individuals typing in their specific web address or searching for a specific topic.
The concept of viral sharing extends to BF’s advertising strategy, as ads do not take the form of banners, but look like BF curated content (called “native advertising”)4. This distinction is important, as the native advertisements are more shareable, thus increasing their viral potential. From an advertiser’s perspective, a potential customer will be more influenced by content-embedded ad shared by several friends than by a banner on top of a web page.
The picture below shows BuzzFeed’s homepage. The top article, titled “This Guy Recovered Like A Goddamned Champ After His Pants Fell Down In Front Of Croatia’s President” is shareable and brings in traffic. Other serious articles cover GITMO and the recent California shooting. And as identified by yellow “Promoted By” tags, advertisements take a form similar to other content.
Operating Model: Generate viral content, make it viral-er, promote what is viral-est
BuzzFeed utilizes both human capital and technology to create content.
BF employs 200 editors, tasked with creating and sourcing content. Editors are free to draw information from any source. BuzzFeed cultivates creativity by not micro-managing its editors. “There are no lengthy editorial meetings where themes are defined or topics assigned. BuzzFeed taps into the personality and creativity of their editors and lets them find their particular voice.”5,6
Content sourcing has been assisted by technology. BuzzFeed has used technology and an algorithm that monitors the sharing of content from other sources (including Time, Aol News, TMZ, Life, etc.). A story’s traffic generated from sharing platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) has been used to determine if it is going viral. If the story met certain criteria, it would be posted to BF’s site.7
After content is created, BuzzFeed leverages technology to determine what headline will work best. The company’s “publishing back-end also allows editors to do their own A/B testing, running various headlines against each other among random readers before making their final pick on the right headline.”6 Editors can experiment on a number of users to determine what headline will generate the most buzz.
BuzzFeed ultimately publishes 700-900 articles per day. After an article is published, the company uses analytics to evaluate its early performance. Based on its initial traction, BF then accelerates or pays less attention to the content’s promotion – focusing on content with more viral potential.6,5
Alignment: Business and operating models align to bring you what you weren’t looking for
Through operational features like promotion of creativity among editors, technology-driven identification of viral content, and analytics to pick the best headlines and accelerate promotion, BuzzFeed’s operating model supports its business model. These features are helping the company develop expertise, gather data, and hone analytics/technology with respect to generating and disseminating viral content.
BuzzFeed’s business model leverages this expertise in generating traffic for its own content and the content of advertisers. If a story is viral, readers will share it with more than one acquaintance8, pulling exponential readers to BuzzFeed’s website. This is especially meaningful for advertisers, whose marketing materials can potentially be distributed to customers by their own family, friends, and colleagues.
This alignment gives BuzzFeed the potential to become a preeminent media source. BuzzFeed has a head start on leveraging the internet to publish and share content (and advertisements) by understanding why and how a story goes viral. Only time will tell if the company can sustainably produce shareable media and successfully transition to generating more important content.
 Me, every time I shared an article with friends (when I should have been working)