Independent Thinking Blog

Buzzfeed’s Founder on the Future of Content

When Jonah Peretti was in graduate school in 2001, he tried to customize a pair of swosh sneakers with the word “sweatshop.”

As you might imagine, Nike was not amused. They sent him several emails with different excuses, and then finally just said no. He forwarded each email to a few friends, who forwarded them to their friends–and they reached millions. Next thing you know, he was on The Today Show.

Peretti is not an expert on sweatshops or labor standards.

Peretti is the founder of Buzzfeed, a media company that gets five billion page views per month for its content. In a terrific talk at the Hubspot INBOUND 2015 conference, he discussed the future of content.

Media is for using (not consuming).

[bctt tweet=”Don’t write, shoot video, draw, or otherwise create content ‘just because.'”]

Your content should be useful.

Peretti talked about how “media is something that people use in their lives.” So, for example, the early “disaster girl” meme (think Things Tim Howard Could Save but with a little girl instead) was a way for people to share a laugh or take a break from being bored at work. Ditto for the quizzes and the lists that we get to thank Buzzfeed for making ubiquitous.

It’s content that helps people connect with each other.

Content is everywhere.

Peretti pointed out that the video of Buzzfeed’s interview with President Obama has never been on the Buzzfeed Web site. It’s only on Facebook.

[bctt tweet=”You have to meet people where they are.”]

According to an interview with Re/code, here’s how Buzzfeed’s traffic breaks down:

  • 23 percent: direct to the site or apps
  • 14 percent: YouTube views
  • 2 percent: Google search to the site
  • 6 percent: Facebook traffic to the site
  • 27 percent: Facebook native video
  • 4 percent: images on Facebook
  • 21 percent: Snapchat content views
  • 3 percent: other distributed platforms

Facebook. Snapchat. YouTube. Google. The content universe is increasingly global, and you have to both hang out where your audience is and create content that works on each (or all) of the platforms across the Web.

This is what success looks like.

The heart of Peretti’s remarks focus on how Buzzfeed measures the success of its content. He identified a number of metrics, including:

  • Does it help people in their actual lives (e.g., the “clean-eating challenge”)?
  • Does it help change powerful institutions (e.g., investigative journalism)?
  • Does it help make the world more open and diverse (e.g., content for left-handed people)?

Peretti also talked about having an international audience and how to “translate” the essence of what works in one country, platform, or medium, to another.

This isn’t a quick-hits video. It’s long (43 minutes). I watched it while walking on my treadmill. Find your viewing spot, because it’s worth it. [Click here if you can’t see the video.]

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