“BuzzFeed doesn’t make a product,” says Jonah Peretti. “We’re a service that makes content that gets better and better over time.” The CEO of BuzzFeed made an appearance at SXSW this week to talk content. And he is especially well-positioned to do so, after the site’s now-infamous post about The Dress divided the world and smashed page view records.
Peretti believes that content should always come before clicks. “Because so many publishers build their businesses on banner ads, they have to get people back to their site to make money,” he says. “You should be using this distribution channel to show them content, not just a pointer to some other space.” Which is why a big part of BuzzFeed’s strategy now is all about creating content that is tailor-made for publication on specific sites; “by looking at a single platform, and iterating against that, you can make things to connect to that audience.”
When it comes to branded content, BuzzFeed is schooling other media outlets, with promoted posts that reach just as wide an audience as their original pieces. This is precisely because an ad is treated by staff as an original piece of work. For example, a sponsored video for Friskies cat food, entitled ‘Dear Kitten’, racked up over 20 million views.
Peretti elaborated on BuzzFeed’s approach to branded content and the increasingly tired phrase “going viral” in an interview with Recode:
“All of these viral agengies say, ‘well, we can’t make it go viral, but we can buy the cheapest traffic possible, and get it to a million views, and we can tell them it’s viral.’ So it ended up polluting what the word viral even meant. It lost its grounding in epidemiological math, and became about reaching some sort of specific number… For us, we can look at it and say, ‘here’s how to take a concept and shape it into something that has the best chance of spreading’. And then we can say, let’s not just do one thing, let’s have a portfolio… Do a list, do a quiz, do a video, do a Vine… That’s why every advertiser we ever work with always gets sharing and earned media. That’s something that when we started, a lot of people were sceptical about. It always works.”