BuzzFeed’s Secret To Truly Shareable Content

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Our lives are crammed full of content. In an age with such a deluge, what makes certain types of content spread? BuzzFeed, a media company founded by Jonah Peretti, has truly mastered the art of shareable content. In On! The Future of Now, Jonah Peretti shares his story leading up to BuzzFeed, including his time as an Eyebeam fellow where he spent time experimenting with digital content and learning what made something go viral. In his chapter, Jonah is interviewed by current Eyebeam fellow Elisa Kreisinger, where they discuss art, pop culture and what drives people to share.

“We were all working on various projects and kind of collaborating on things where there was mutual interest. It didn’t look like art that you’d be trying to show in galleries and it didn’t look like a company or a Web startup or a product. It just felt like people messing around but now if you do these kinds of things, people try to hire you or fund your startup.”

During his time with Eyebeam, Peretti was motivated to learn what entertains people, inspires people, as well as understand human behavior, and how media and ideas spread. While that might have not been the goal of most Eyebeam Fellows, who typically focused on art as work, his curiosity ultimately led to BuzzFeed’s inception.

Art has a strange relationship with “virality” and “popularity” today. On one hand, the more popular a work of art becomes, the less “artsy” it is. The fact that so many individuals are aware of one piece of art causes a lack of interest. The passion behind art is also key, Peretti notes. During the Eyebeam days, he spent time building, tinkering, and collaborating with ideas that were truly fascinating. The experimentation opportunities far outweighed the profitability ones.

With the eventual success of Buzzfeed, Peretti points towards shock-factor and just enough controversy that you would still send that photo or article to your entire contact list. Something too controversial or shocking would never be shared with your contacts, and something so ordinary is overlooked or ignored. Finding that happy medium between the two, however, is the secret sauce to the rapid spreading of content and media.

Jonah discusses how having time to explore and try different ideas without knowing how it would fit into his career trajectory was critical to the way he approaches BuzzFeed. He explains that BuzzFeed is a large scale experiment testing what makes the internet tick and what causes content to gain traction. To conclude the interview, Elissa and Jonah dissect pop culture and how identity-based sharing is turning the media into a tool for understanding and empathy. Jonah explains, “You see people’s identities being an anchor for sharing, but they’re sharing with other people that can learn from their experiences.”

*This post is part of a series highlighting personal stories and key themes from our new book, On! The Future of Now. Order your copy of On! The Future of now here. Proceeds to support Charity: Water.

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Social Media Week

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You Won’t Believe What Happened When BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti and Upworthy’s Eli Pariser Squared Off

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Okay, that didn’t happen. But as two heavy-hitting content sites best known for their link bait headlines and pervasiveness, they did both talk about their viral science philosophies at Social Media Week in New York.

Jonah Peretti and Eli Pariser agree the human self is complex and our interests are varied. As Peretti would frame it, BuzzFeed lets you pet the dog while reading the New York Times.

Pariser points to the aspirational self (the one that brags about not having a TV) and the behavioral self (the one that shame-eats a Doritos Locos Taco), explaining that, “A good media company addresses both and measures both.”

On BuzzFeed, the distinction between the fun quiz and the serious story is apparent. On Upworthy, they blend the two together by packaging the serious issues into digestible and entertaining bits.

As a nonprofit content marketer, Upworthy is the dream I dared to dream. Finally, a model for how we can tell a story about a public health crisis, starving children, and #1 health killers without it feeling like we’re serving up a whole bowl of broccoli. What’s more is Upworthy has the ability to reach those who never eat broccoli.

Once Upworthy gets the vegetables in by acting like the spoon is a choo-choo train, people feel nourished. This changes the notion that to be successful you have to give the people what they want and the public is at fault for wanting only Grumpy Cat. Upworthy’s data shows that people are willing to read about the important issues as long as it’s packaged in a certain way.

Upworthy is showing even more faith in humanity by rolling out their new feature that allows their community to vote on content. Perhaps it’s because I’m most like Sybil from Downtown Abbey, but Upworthy makes me feel very optimistic about the future.

Amanda Lehner is a Digital Strategist @HelpsGood based in NYC.

Social Media Week

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