Jonah Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed, took to the stage at Wired 2013 in London this week to speak about the key to reaching audiences. “Everyday we need to make things that people think is worth passing on to their friends,” he said, keen to highlight that BuzzFeed’s remit has moved on from the ‘bored at work’ audience and now also comprises the ‘bored in line’ readers who consume content on mobile devices.
Peretti believes that mobile is crucial to the success of web-based products, and in the case of BuzzFeed, so is social engagement (75% of their traffic comes via social networks). “When we see traffic coming from mobile,” says Peretti, “it is disproportionately social.”
BuzzFeed may be known primarily for its GIF-heavy listicles and Nineties nostalgia pieces, but Peretti is currently working on the long form section of the platform and building a team of investigative journalists. His rationale is that consumers are hungry for great storytelling, and that goes beyond “17 Reasons You Wish Giles From Buffy Was Your Dad”.
In an interview with Wired prior to the event, Peretti refuted the idea that BuzzFeed’s penchant for kittens and LOLs could potentially damage its journalistic credibility. “Can you take the BBC’s news coverage seriously when they also show Monty Python, Ricky Gervais, and Doctor Who? Can you trust a newspaper with a comics section, a crossword puzzle, and a lifestyle section? The answer, of course, is yes.”
So how, then, do you strike a balance between content that is immediately sharable for cute or funny reasons, and longer pieces that tell a coherent story?
“News needs to be accurate,” he says, and “kittens need to be cute. People get in trouble when they sloppily mix the two.” However, he advises, if you take viral and factual content equally seriously, the results can be pretty exciting.