Tag Archives: buzzfeed

Facebook pays for content. Therefore, it’s a media company

Recently, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was asked in an interview whether Facebook is a media company. “At our heart we’re a tech company,” Sandberg said. “We hire engineers. We don’t hire reporters. No one is a journalist. We don’t cover the news. “

Well, that’s not exactly true. In this video, I explain why.

How BuzzFeed is ensuring it’s not too dependent on Facebook

BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti

BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti

If there was ever an appropriate time to use the word “frenemy,” it would be while describing the relationship between Facebook and content publishers. Those publishers have watched over the past two years as their Facebook traffic has steadily increased, and, while that traffic has been certainly welcome, it has also induced a significant level of paranoia and worry that one day it will go away. I’ve written before about how this paranoia has led to social media managers obsessively hitting refresh on their Facebook analytics, searching for any sign that their content has been degraded in the newsfeed.

In an essay for Medium, New York Times associate director of audience development Matt Yurow explains how this dependency on Facebook is creating a similar environment to what the music industry faced in the early aughts when it succumbed to Steve Jobs’s siren call and made its music available on the iTunes store. With the popularity of the iPod and later the iPhone, Apple then had a vice-like grip on the industry, which defanged the music labels and further contributed to their decline. According to Yurow, Facebook is gaining a similar type of leverage over content publishers (I’ve made a similar analogy, except instead of iTunes I compared it to Amazon’s relationship to book publishers):

Facebook has been pushing media companies to natively upload their videos to the platform, rather than posting links to YouTube or a first party player.

According to a 2013 study by social analytics firm Socialbakers, videos uploaded directly to Facebook reached a wider audience than links embedding a YouTube player.

Would Facebook throttle back the reach of links to other media sites in favor of content hosted on its own servers? It’s not incomprehensible.

The trend Yurow’s noting is what publishers have referred to as “digital sharecropping,” a neologism that describes how people will place their entire digital presence on a platform they don’t own or control rather than investing more in their own website. Just as with agricultural sharecropping, the digital sharecropper is at the mercy of those who own the land the sharecropper is cultivating, And as Facebook becomes the dominant source for traffic to publishers, it increasingly gains leverage over them, especially as its newsfeed algorithm, one that’s opaque to outside observers, controls what content users see while logged in.

But while some publishers, like Dose.com and Viral Nova, have staked nearly their entire futures on the assumption that the Facebook traffic hose will keep flowing, one publication has been busy inoculating itself against a Facebook backlash: BuzzFeed.

Now, your first response to this might be: “Hasn’t BuzzFeed seen tremendous success on Facebook?” Well, yes. It’s consistently among the top five sites that are shared on the platform. But it hasn’t responded to this traffic tsunami by merely attempting to extend its Facebook reach even further; rather, it has aimed to diversify its traffic sources, distributing its eggs among several baskets, and has even begun to build its own platforms on which it hopes its users will reside.

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Case in point: Pinterest. While most non-lifestyle news companies have only dabbled with Pinterest, BuzzFeed made a very large bet on the platform, and it’s now its second-largest social referrer. “It also has a much longer lifecycle than other social networks, often driving traffic to posts months after publication,” said Dao Nguyen, VP of growth and data at BuzzFeed. “In fact, more than half of BuzzFeed’s traffic from Pinterest goes to posts published more than 2 months ago.” The site saw this success not from simply cross-posting its content to Pinterest, but by developing posts specifically tailored for the network and sharing any insights gleaned from the experiments to the larger BuzzFeed team.

BuzzFeed has also invested heavily in email marketing, an old-school medium that’s seen a revival of late due to its much higher engagement rate compared to other social platforms. It currently offers 15 newsletter options, and it saw 700 percent more email traffic in 2014 compared to the year prior.

And with the launch and expansion of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, it’s developed a massive following on YouTube, with over 10 million subscribers across its four channels. In 2014, BuzzFeed video received 4.5 billion views, with most of those views on YouTube.

But perhaps nothing will protect BuzzFeed more from platform dependency than its efforts to build its own off-site platform. The company has been aggressively hiring new staff to create and maintain its own mobile app, and unlike other news outlet forays into mobile apps, this one will serve as more than a copy-and-paste repository for its website content. According to an interview with Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial lead for the app, it will curate non-BuzzFeed content, in essence trying to compete with news aggregation apps like Flipboard, Smart News, and, yes, Facebook.

Sure, the app hasn’t launched yet and may end up being a complete dud, but no one can accuse BuzzFeed of sitting by and allowing Facebook to increase its grip on the site’s audience. In fact, if Facebook were to disappear tomorrow, then BuzzFeed would still have a significant following from which to propagate its content. If Facebook is a siren luring sailors with her song, then BuzzFeed is Odysseus, binding itself to the ship’s mast so as to resist the siren’s deadly call.

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Image via CEO World

How a small change to BuzzFeed’s CMS vastly improved its mobile website

buzzfeed logo 2

If you’ve been publishing on the internet for long, you undoubtedly know what it’s like when you spend a significant amount of time formatting an article for the web, only to realize hours or even days later that the piece looks like shit on mobile. A photograph that you had right-aligned makes a paragraph unreadable. An image, rendered for the mobile screen, is tiny and indecipherable. The pagination is broken. Because we do most of our writing and publishing on a desktop/laptop, it doesn’t always occur to us to visit our own article on our mobile phone to ensure that it’s still readable. Realizing this, BuzzFeed’s vice president of growth and data Dao Nguyen made a subtle-yet-important change to the site’s CMS:

But writing a big list post is a lot of work, she said, and previewing it on a non-desktop platform was a task easily forgotten.

Now when BuzzFeed authors click the preview button in their CMS, they see what their posts will look like on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers when they preview them, Nguyen said. That’s a fix that’s important for the site’s readers’ experiences, because sometimes writers use “embeds and large graphics that don’t scale down to mobile-sized screens,” Chris Johanesen, BuzzFeed’s vice president of product, said on the same call.

 

Most publishers don’t realize how difficult it is to produce popular web videos

buzzfeed video

Even without any prior context as to the state of online video, the viewership stats for BuzzFeed Video are amazing. In an interview with BuzzFeed executive producer Andrew Gauthier, we’re treated to these numbers:

Unlike many text publishers that have pushed into video, BuzzFeed’s videos aren’t boom and bust. They regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. For example, the last 10 videos BuzzFeed created have view counts between 221,000 and 1 million on BuzzFeed’s primary YouTube channel, BuzzFeedVideo.

I think the average consumer could reasonably assume that a website that already has millions of monthly visitors and millions of social media followers could start regularly producing web videos that rack up thousands of views. The reality is that success stories like BuzzFeed’s are far from the norm.

There’s been a trend in recent years of major news outlets, galvanized by the promise of higher CPM advertising rates, launching more robust video departments. How hard could it be to simply replicate the cable news talking heads model? Just put a few pundits and journalists in a room and have them analyze that day’s news. After wasting significant money and staff resources, many of these publishers have learned a difficult lesson: It’s harder than it looks. In fact, getting a significantly-sized audience to not only sit down and watch a video, but then go on to share it on social media, is a gargantuan task.

Don’t believe me? Look at the recent videos uploaded onto YouTube by the New York Times, arguably one of the largest and most well-funded news sites in the U.S. Of the 30 videos uploaded in the last five days, only one has more than 5,000 views. Most have fewer than 2,000. Or look at Post TV, the ambitious video project from the Washington Post. It launched in 2013 with the goal of producing several live shows that starred the newspaper’s most prominent pundits. It was met with dismal reviews, and by December of that same year the company announced that it was already rolling back its shows in favor of shorter videos. When you visit the Post TV website today you’ll mostly find a repository of short Reuters videos.

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And god forbid you decide to forgo YouTube and only use your custom-made video player. YouTube’s ecosystem is massive (it’s the second largest search engine after Google), and its video recommendation engine has enormous influence. Unless your video is absolutely groundbreaking, without YouTube’s help it’s likely to get fewer than 100 views.

So the fact that BuzzFeed is able to regularly produce videos that attract hundreds of thousands of viewers proves that it isn’t a one-hit, listicle-dependent wonder. It has succeeded among the wreckage of hundreds of abandoned video departments that were launched by overly-eager news organizations.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: Want to know how I was paid to write this article? I explain it in this video.

BuzzFeed is the least dependent news site on pageviews, yet one of the most highly trafficked

There is a certain level of irony that BuzzFeed doesn’t sell advertising based on CPM (basically, a cost per thousand impressions/pageviews), yet in terms of pageviews there are likely few news sites that can rival it. As Felix Salmon notes, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti chose to eschew the typical pageview whoring you see on sites like Business Insider (slideshows, misleading headlines) in favor of improving the user experience:

That’s partly because, its massive traffic numbers notwithstanding, BuzzFeed is not actually in the traffic business, and describing it as a “web traffic sensation” rather misses the whole point of the company. While a company like Business Insider makes money by selling inventory to advertisers, BuzzFeed doesn’t: you won’t see any ads on a BuzzFeed story page. If you feel a little bit disappointed after clicking through to a Business Insider story, at least the company has sold your visit to a client. But if you feel a little bit disappointed after clicking through to a BuzzFeed story, BuzzFeed gets no benefit at all. The people at BuzzFeed want their stories and quizzes and videos to ideally reach everybody who will love them — and no one else.

Why is BuzzFeed still taking on more investment?

In any article about BuzzFeed taking on more investment, there invariably comes a time when some spokesman for the company, usually founder Jonah Peretti, issues the caveat that despite taking on said investment, they really are profitable. With yesterday’s announcement that the company just took on $50 million in new investment at a valuation of $850 million, that task was assigned to venture capitalist Chris Dixon, who just joined BuzzFeed’s board:

According to Mr. Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz, BuzzFeed is expected to generate revenue in the triple-digit millions of dollars by the end of 2014.

This always begs the question: If the site is so profitable, why bother raising more money — and giving away more equity — at all? Well, in addition to some vague allusions to a new startup incubator (where BuzzFeed can start making its own acquisitions) within the company, we have this:

BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which is led by Ze Frank, a web video pioneer, aims to produce new videos — from six-second clips made for social media to more traditional 22-minute shows — at a rapid-fire pace. Initially, his team will focus on independent distribution, hosting video content on BuzzFeed.com, YouTube or other digital platforms. But BuzzFeed Motion Pictures could also look to produce feature-length films or shows, working in conjunction with traditional Hollywood studios.

It’s well known that high quality video production is expensive, and if they’re looking to produce television or film quality content, then we’re talking about spending several million dollars per project. This seems like a clear sign that web video is continuing to mature to a point where it can legitimately compete with network and studio content.