BuzzFeed was launched as a side project, exactly at the same time, by a media veteran and co-founder of The Huffington Post – Jonah Peretti. We believe it’s more than enough for us to see how they managed to become a $2 billion media giant. Besides, it moved against the grain, right from the start.
Online publishers have been known to define and publish content in a specific structure/format. But BuzzFeed stayed away from all the traditional journalistic methods. It created listicles, viral stories, and covered news and didn’t confine itself to a specific topic.
Because BuzzFeed opened a platform that focused on sharing most viewed pieces of media across the globe and it knows people share when they like something, regardless of the topic. Many of the top-performing publishers thought the emoticon-website wouldn’t last that long. But the publisher did it anyhow.
Today, we have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and many other social platforms equipped with many features. With the help of them, we can share anything with our colleagues, friends, relatives, etc. But roughly a decade ago, these social media platforms didn’t exist or were just evolving. When most of the digital media companies struggled to find a reliable platform to distribute their content, the publisher built a tool to use the audience as the primary distributors. Doesn’t it feel more like a product than a media company?
“It’s a big part of my routine. It’s a good tool especially to see something I might have missed on Twitter or Facebook, that someone else may have caught.”
– Andre Borges, Social News Reporter, BuzzFeed.
We don’t want to spill the beans yet. Let’s dive in, you’ll see for yourself.
How it all started?
Originally, Jonah Peretti launched BuzzFeed as an Internet Popularity Contest (Src) on Nov, 2006. The brainchild of Peretti was intended to create a computer program that would share content to the users on a daily basis. According to him, the content for its website should be a mixture of internet memes, listicles, and list of minutiae. The publisher aimed at posting contagious content that people possibly like to share.
They ran the company with 2 people including Mr. Jonah and burned around $60k per month to build the tool and get the audience of 750k per mo (Src).
Where they are today?
Once BuzzFeed had no editors or other staff members and the website was able to handle just five or six links per day. In fact, half of them were from bots covering trending news of that day (Src). Now, they have more than 18 offices around the world with 1,300+ employees (Src).
A year after the launch of the publishing site, BuzzFeed had 927.5k Monthly Global Uniques (Src), and now they have more than 200M monthly unique visitors with 300M+ YouTube subscribers, and 100+ Facebook pages (Src).
The thing uncommon was, Google or any other search platform wasn’t responsible to bring traffic to the site. Most of the visitors were brought by other visitors who recommended them an article or blog post to check. Aggregating viral content from several sources was the theme for this publisher.
Evolution of BuzzFeed
Image Source: BuzzFeed.
The publisher always published content that has a higher probability to get shared than clicked. Since the genesis of the dot com era, when major publishing companies focused on SEO, keywords, tags, etc., BuzzFeed thought such content would only attract bots to read, and promoted its editors to write content that’s worth sharing.
Bots to Media
2006 – 2008
Instant Messaging Client
In 2006, BuzzFeed was launched with its tools – BuzzBot and Trend Detector. BuzzBot was an instant messaging client that shared the viral links with its signed-up users whereas Trend Detector processed data with the help of various algorithms.
The trend detectors were made to dig down more than 50,000 websites, blogs, and news sources and identify the most viewed links that have a greater chance to get shared among people quickly. As soon as a viral content was found by the detector, it’s passed to a special terminal interface. This interface was used by the editorial team of BuzzFeed to check the content processed by detectors, and further, publish it on the site after a few modifications.
After publishing the content on the site, the BuzzBot sent users a link to the hottest content available on the internet that day (Src). Whoever signed up for BuzzFeed‘s service, get the popular links sent by BuzzBot.
BuzzFeed in 2006:
The home page had links to the most popular videos, news articles, commentary, and other entertaining viral topics. The publisher didn’t look for a logic of the news before publishing content on its site. Shareability mattered more. At its earliest days, the publisher shared random funny content that were absolutely meant for entertainment.
Besides trend detectors and other tools, Google Trend was helping the publisher to know about the most popular search by internet users and their preferences.