tech

BuzzFeed’s strategy

BuzzFeed’s CEO, Jonah Peretti, recently sent out an email to employees and investors summarizing the company’s strategy and progress. I really liked his email so I asked Jonah if I could blog it and he gave me permission. This isn’t just the usual cheerleading email – there is a real strategy here (I especially like the strategy choice in section 3), and it’s working.

I’m an investor in BuzzFeed and friends with Jonah so of course I’m biased. But to me what makes BuzzFeed great is their highly unusual combination of capabilities and sensibilities – the capabilities of a first-rate tech startup with the sensibilities of media industry veterans. I think Jonah’s email captures this well.

From: Jonah Peretti 
Subject: The Top 7 Reasons BuzzFeed Is Killing It
To: BuzzFeed Employees 

Hello BuzzFeeders,

As you just heard at the all hands meeting, things are going great at BuzzFeed. We passed 30M unique visitors last month, our revenue is on pace to be more than 3 times what we did in 2011, we have grown from 26 full-timers at the start of last year to 117 today, and we have published entertaining and important stories enjoyed by millions of people.  Our revenue is surging as brands shift their budgets to social ads and our recent growth is driven more by revenue than VC funding – an amazing milestone for any startup. We still have a long way to go but it has been a great year so far.

Whenever a company has this kind of success the press, competitors, and the public start asking: “how do they do it??!?”  Unfortunately, this speculation is often unkind and unfair.  The default assumption is that a company must be cheating somehow or using some trick to grow traffic or revenue.

This skepticism is actually justified because many startups actually do use tricks or shortcuts to succeed.  Some companies figure out ways to juice their numbers so they can quickly sell for millions and then a year later it all comes crashing down.  The dotcom era was as famous for Geocities, Broadcast.com, and Pets.com as it was for Amazon, Yahoo, or eBay.  Based on industry precedent, it is understandable that people are skeptical when a startup starts to really take off.

Nevertheless, BuzzFeed has received a very positive reception from the public, readers, our partners, and the press. But occasionally someone engages in uninformed negative speculation about us, mostly because they are confused about what we are doing.  This confusion is likely to increase in the future. As we grow it is important that we help people understand what we are doing and why it is interesting and different.

In that spirit, I want to share some of my thoughts of about why things are going well, why our success is based on hard work and a unique approach, and how you might explain what we are doing to a drunk, misguided hater at a party.

 

Why BuzzFeed Is Succeeding Right Now?

1) Long Term Focus 

When you compare web publishing today with what Hearst and Conde Nast built in the last century, it is clear that online publishing has a long long way to go.  As sites like Facebook and Twitter mature, the moment is right to build a defining company for a world where content is distributed through sharing and social media instead of transitional print and broadcast channels. Why shouldn’t we be one of the companies that builds this future?

This big opportunity is why we are focused on building an enduring, independent, and self-sustaining company. Nobody has built a truly great publishing company for the social age and we have a good shot to be the ones who do it. But it means that we can’t take short cuts, we need to always invest in the future, and this is why we spend so much time and money building technology and products that don’t have an immediate impact on the company but will help us down the road.

We could juice our traffic and revenue by dropping everything and focusing entirely on the short term.  And that is what companies do when they are trying to flip for a fast payday. But when you are building something enduring, you have to care as much about next year as you do about next week.  That is how you build something big and that’s our goal.

2) Respecting our Readers 

We care about the experience of people who read BuzzFeed and we don’t try to trick them for short term gain.  This approach is surprisingly rare.

How does this matter in practice? First of all, we don’t publish slideshows. Instead we publish scrollable lists so readers don’t have to click a million times and can easily scroll through a post. The primary reason to publish slideshows, as far as I can tell, is to juice page views and banner ad impressions.  Slideshows are super annoying and lists are awesome so we do lists!

For the same reason, we don’t show crappy display ads and we make all our revenue from social advertising that users love and share.  We never launched one of those “frictionless sharing” apps on Facebook that automatically shares the stories you click because those apps are super annoying. We don’t post deceptive, manipulative headlines that trick people into reading a story.  We don’t focus on SEO or gaming search engines or filling our pages with millions of keywords and tags that only a robot will read.  We avoid anything that is bad for our readers and can only be justified by short term business interests.

Instead, we focus on publishing content our readers love so much they think it is worth sharing. It sounds simple but it’s hard to do and it is the metric that aligns our company with our readers. In the long term is good for readers and good for business.

3) We Build The Whole Enchilada  

Most publishers build their site by stapling together products made by other companies. They get their CMS from one company, their analytics package from another, their ad tech from another, their related content widgets are powered by another, sometimes even their writers are contractors who don’t work for the company. This is why so many publisher sites look the same and also why they can be so amazingly complex and hard to navigate.  They are Frankenstein products bolted together by a tech team that integrates other people’s products instead of building their own.

At BuzzFeed we take the exact opposite approach. We manage our own servers, we built our CMS from scratch, we created our own realtime stats system, we have our own data science team, we invented own ad products and our own post formats, and all these products are brought to life by our own editorial team and our own creative services team. We are what you call a “vertically integrated product” which is rare in web publishing. We take responsibility for the technology, the advertising, and the content and that allows us to make a much better product where everything works together.

It is hard to build vertically integrated products because you have to get good at several things instead of just one.  This is why for years Microsoft was seen as the smart company for focusing on just one layer and Apple was seen as dumb for trying to do everything.  But now Apple is more than twice (!) as valuable as Microsoft and the industry is starting to accept that you need to control every layer to make a really excellent product.  Even Microsoft and Google has started to make their own hardware after years of insisting that software is what matters.

BuzzFeed is one of the very few publishers with the resources, talent, and focus to build the whole enchilada.  And nothing is tastier than a homemade enchilada.

4) We Are Doing Something Hard 

Vertical integration means we have to be good at lots of things which is hard.  But doing something hard can actually be an advantage for a business.  It means that there are not that many other people trying to do what we do or capable of doing what we do.  For example, venture capitalists don’t like funding companies that have reporters on staff.  In the early days of BuzzFeed, I had several VCs say they were interested in investing if we could figure out a way to fire all the editors and still run the site. I’m not joking.Tech investors prefer pure platform companies because you can just focus on the tech, have the users produce the content for free, and scale the business globally without having to hire many people.  Startups that promise this vision have an easier time attracting funding which is why there are so many startups trying to be the next Twitter or Facebook or the Instagram or Pinterest for X, Y, or Z.  Meanwhile, companies that employ reporters, editors, and creative people usually struggle to get funding which is why so few publishing companies or agencies are venture backed.

Fortunately, we have been able to convince a few, smart contrarian investors to back our business including NEA, the biggest venture fund in the world.  As one of the few venture backed publishers, we are in a unique position to be one of the leading creators of web content crafted by true professionals. There are lots and lots of things that random, unpaid web users suck at doing.  In particular, the best reporting and the most entertaining media is usually created by people who do it for a living – that means us!

5) We Got Lucky!

A big part of our recent success has also been luck.  People don’t like to admit it but skill is 63% luck.

In our case, we got very lucky with timing.  We were a company focused on making content for people to share just as the social web came of age, at the moment when Facebook and Twitter and other platforms reached scale, and at exactly the moment when it became possible to build a big publishing company through social distribution.

This same lucky shift made our business model work for the first time.  A couple years ago, we were trying unsuccessfully to sell social advertising to a market that only wanted to buy banners but things have changed dramatically since then.  Now many agencies and brands are refusing to buy banners, companies that rely on traditional display units are suffering, and budgets are shifting rapidly to social advertising. One of our board members, who was initially skeptical of our decision to not run banners, recently said that “social advertising will be the biggest media business since cable television.” Times have changed.

Now we are leading the market, which is a huge opportunity, but it was pure luck that a social advertising market even exists for us to lead.  It’s like we happened to start surfing a few minutes before a great wave rolled in.  Or we built a locomotive and a few days later the train tracks got built. We were obsessed with social content and ads before anyone else cared and it was extremely lucky that the world shifted toward us when it did.  The question now is how well we capitalize on our good fortune.

6) We Don’t Treat Half Our Team Like Losers

BuzzFeed is unique in that we are equally obsessed with 1) entertaining content, 2) substantive content, and 3) social advertising.  The teams that focus on each of these areas are equally important which is a key part of our success. We want our cute animals, humor, and animated gifs to be the best of their kind on the web – they aren’t just a cheap way to generate traffic.  We want our reporters to have the best scoops, the smartest analysis, and the most talked about items – they aren’t just a hood ornament to lend the site prestige. And we want our advertising to be innovative, inspiring, and lead the shift to social – and not just be a necessary evil that pays the bills.

Some companies only care about journalism and as a result the people focusing on lighter editorial fare or advertising are second class citizens.  Some companies only care about traffic which creates an environment where good journalists can’t take the time to talk to sources or do substantive work.  Some companies only care about ad revenue and actually force editors to create new sections or content just because brands want to sponsor it.

People don’t do good work when they feel like losers and are second class citizens within their own company.  Fortunately we have avoided that problem.  We love the silly, we love the substantive, and we love making advertising that is actually compelling.  And when we are good at these three things it benefits everyone and the world.

7) Our Awesome Team 

This next one will sound a bit cliche and sappy, but a huge reason we are doing well now is…….you.  We have an amazing team of extremely talented people who really know what they are doing.

We have a group of culture editors who are insanely tapped into the flow of culture on the web, from 4chan to Reddit to Tumbler to Twitter to Pinterest to blogs to pop culture to memes and know how to add their own ideas to the mix and create entertaining posts that people love to share.

In just the past 6 months (!), we have assembled an incredibly talented group of reporters and writers who are regularly breaking news, unearthing scoops, advancing ideas, and engaging business leaders, US Senators, Presidential candidates, the White House, and leading media outlets. Politics was our first vertical and has already become THE defining outlet of the 2012 presidential campaign and the newer verticals are already on their way to owning there respective areas.

Our teams focused on social advertising are totally killing it, with a consultative sales team full of ideas for clients, a creative services team making incredibly entertaining and sharable ads, a social discovery team expanding campaigns to Facebook, Twitter, and across the web, and an ad ops team that traffics our campaigns with skill, grace, and dogged determination – it’s not surprising we are blowing away all our revenue goals. Gong!

And finally the tech, product, and data teams are inventing and building an unparalleled social publishing platform that powers everything we do, including a massive non-relational realtime stats database that tracks billions of data points for our Social Intelligence Report (launched today!), machine learning system for predicting viral hits, elegant publishing tools for editors, and a beautiful front end design that is continually tested, improved, and evolved with the benefit of smart multivariate testing.

You rock and you keep getting better and better with each passing day.  It is really amazing to watch.

But Success Is Fragile…

It’s easy to get excited and arrogant when things are going well but it is important to remember that success is very fragile.  Digg sold for $500K after being worth $200 million just a few years ago. In the same time period, RIM, maker of the Blackberry, lost 95% (!) of its value.  There is continual disruption in our industry and you are likely to fail if you get complacent or stop evolving.

This is why we met today to discuss our “Next Level” plans and why we are always focused on pushing what we do to the next level.  We have done amazing work in the past year and we should all feel proud.  But to thrive in the future, we need to stay humble, enjoy the journey, and continually evolve and improve.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year.

Thank you all for doing such inspiring work.

Categories: tech

146 replies »

  1. I appreciate the “do it yourself” attitude of #3 – and it may help them attract programming talent. But when I look at their site, I don’t see anything that reflects this attitude – looks all off the shelf to me, the consumer. So I fail to see the advantage of that approach – seems to me that as a VC, you should also be concerned about burn rate and having a team build everything, when there are really good off-the-shelf tools available, is an enormous waste of capital and, more importantly, time.

  2. Thanks Chris and of course Jonah for allowing you to republish his letter. There are definitely a number of lessons in this letter and I will need to re-read it few times. I do like how he attached a percentage for luck (63%) :)

  3. BuzzFeed (the company) can be confusing because it is much more than just a destination site. Among other things, they track clicks/virality of stories, ads etc across all the sites stories/ads get shared to and optimize in real time, which requires a big analytics infrastructure.

  4. let it be known (for the record) that Foster and I were both probably typing that at the same time, and that I did not see his tl;dr before I posted mine.

  5. As a user, I’m not a big fan of any kind of ads (except perhaps super targeted direct response ads on Google), but social ads a la Buzzfeed seem to me more natural for social networks than, say, display ads.

  6. Too much Kool-Aid. I feel like i’m reading an internal memo written by the likes of L Ron Hubbard trying to convince his followers that the path to salvation is through his teachings.

    To be considered a publishing company, you have to actually publish something. Not slideshows with pictures or videos from someone else. And you can’t just publish a handful of original stories while 99% of what you have is borrowed from the original source.

    Jonah can compare his company to Facebook, but to even mention Hearst or Conde Nast is ridiculous. Facebook is a curator of content, the same as Buzzfeed.

    Congrats to the team at Buzzfeed. 30 million uniques is huge. But if you want to compare yourself to Hearst or any traditional media company. Pull out the balance sheets and be real about it.

  7. Roughly a third of their traffic comes from writers like Buzzfeed Ben – very “old fashioned” journalism. The rest is aggregation or internet memes. The article arguing the “N pictures that will restore your faith in humanity” was copied was pretty funny to people who actually understand how internet memes are spread. The only attribution possible would be to the internet.

  8. If one sentence sums up the sentiment of Jonah’s email it is this: “First of all, we don’t publish slideshows”. This attitude is so antithetical to how the rest of the shitty online publishing world thinks about short-term gain over long-term reader retention and is a symbol of Buzzfeed’s awesomeness.

  9. Slideshows are a function of a broken historical internet ad model. I don’t blame sites for doing it. That’s how they get paid and pay their employees. The problem is with the model – and it will go away.

  10. Also a good read:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/where-do-all-those-buzzfeed-cute-animal-pictures-come-from/256547/

    “So, Peretti told me that he considers a BuzzFeed list — its sequencing, framing, etc — to be a transformative use of photos. That is to say, including that unattributed photo of the otter in that list was OK because its inclusion as an “extremely disappointed” animal transformed the nature of the photo.
    “It’s a question,” Peretti said, “of when lots of little things add up to a transformation as opposed to a copyright violation.””

    And that is why they use lists instead of slideshows.

    Lies, damn lies! :D

  11. This is the kind of leadership everyone should aspire to, and be inspired by. Thank you so much for posting this.

  12. Jonah is a clearly a great entrepreneur but I do think some of the ways Buzzfeed gets eyeballs is morally questionable. Sometimes they flat out take content from other sites.

    Here’s an example: http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/scared-bros-at-a-haunted-house

    All of those photos are clearly copyrighted and taken from this user’s account (which they don’t link to btw): http://www.flickr.com/photos/nightmaresfearfactory/

    How is that fair use? What insights are they adding?

  13. Sharp approach to solving distribution… Content comes on top of that once social and interest networks exist. BuzzFeed is building media company of the 21st century.

  14. Yes, the advertisement-by-impression model – even though it never worked since day one – still manages to rule supreme, thus driving content to be centered around the most impressions rather than by the best experience. Once social advertising (or alternative modes of reaching consumers on the web) become standard, I imagine the slideshow will be a thing of the past as well.

  15. I see humility in the CEO’s letter, a very rare but an important trait for success. My advice is, Engage your readers, make them want to come back and be a part of your garden, be honest and CROSS CULTURES. One of the biggest reasons why companies fail is they don’t produce products or services which mirrors the culture and demographics of their country. The biggest consumers of blogs are not OLD WHITE PEOPLE but young American kids who are Colorless and love cross cultures.

  16. That was my favorite bit, too. As someone who DREADS clicking on stories on most news sites because of these slow-loading, irritating slideshows, I appreciate their commitment to reader experience. SO good.

  17. My quote in the Atlantic was a bit overstated. Being part of a list obviously doesn’t automatically make the use of an image fair use. This is why we license images from a rights holder whenever we can and spend so much on AP, Reuters, Getty, and Celeb image services.

    But there are many, many images created by anonymous communities on 4chan, reddit, tumblr, etc, that become part of web culture, get shared everywhere, get remixed, and modified along the way. It is hard to know who owns them or where they originated. In these cases, there is a stronger fair use argument if the list results in a post that is greater than the sum of its parts, adds additional value, makes a meaningful commentary, and doesn’t require any particular image to work.

  18. Agree. Slideshows provide material revenue for many publishers. The rise of DSPs and ad nets have made them even more valuable because it is hard to sell that inventory directly but DSPs will take as many impressions as you can generate. The DSPs realtime auction means slideshow impressions can yield an OK-ish CPM for the publisher.

  19. This is an old post and I don’t know the backstory. But creators often reach out to us because they WANT their content on BuzzFeed. They want their ideas to spread.

    A cool example from the NYT today is the story of Stacy Lambe who created the amazing Texts from Hillary meme, BuzzFeed was one of many sites that helped it spread, and now he has a fulltime job at BuzzFeed doing what he loves.

    Here is link:

    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/tumblr-posts-start-memes-and-win-jobs/

    And here is a key quote:
    “Mr. Lambe said he is “making a lot more money” than he was at his previous job at Tigercomm, and is now getting paid to pursue his hobby. Sitting in the BuzzFeed offices among hundreds of humming computers, he said he plans on sticking with this career for the long run, adding, “I get to dive deep into the world of the Internet, and if I can continue doing that as long as I can, that would be great.””

  20. I agree we are a long way from Hearst or Conde Nast!! I was just making the point that it is possible to build very big media companies and most of the focus of investors and entrepreneurs has been on pure tech. I think the social web will make it possible for people with a long term focus to build bigger media companies and that all of the action will not be pure platform companies.

    Re: “actually publishing something” we are very focused on original reporting. The social web loves a scoop so it is good for business and good for journalism. This NYT article explains more about what we are doing:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/business/media/at-buzzfeed-the-significant-and-the-silly.html?pagewanted=all

    In fact, our political vertical is only 6 months old and is ranked in the top 10 by memeorandum for links to our original content: http://www.memeorandum.com/lb
    Ben is on vacation this week so we are only 9 but usually we are 6 or 7. :)
    Re: Kool-Aid I am guilty as charged. When I was an undergrad reading theory and philosophy I was much more critical. But when you are building a company you only survive if you are optimistic and have the right balance of pragmatism and idealism. This is why company founders sometimes seem annoyingly wide eyed. But I know we are going to hit road blocks along the way, I know there are big things I am missing, I just really believe we have an amazingly creative team who will figure out how to bounce back when we have setbacks in the future.
    Finally much of what is in this memo I learned from colleagues at BuzzFeed, friends in the industry, from my board, and from partners like Ken Lerer. In contrast, L Ron Hubbard had an infallible vision, perfectly, divinely conceived and communicated to his followers in the best selling book Dianetics. If this sounds interesting, you can read more about it here:http://www.whatisscientology.org/ ;)

  21. Thanks. I try to be humble. But you also have to be a little cocky to believe you can build a big company. It is a tough balance. And I agree that the world is about more than OLD WHITE PEOPLE although my long term ambition is to one day be an old white person.

  22. What do you think of funny super bowl ads? Or ads in fashion magazines that are very similar to the editorial spreads? Or the best Mad Men era ads? Many people actually like those types of ads. I think the future of social advertising has to be really great content and not just some targeting trick. I agree that the tricks are creepy but taking ads seriously as content can lead to great ads people enjoy and share. It’s the sharing that should make them social, not a tech trick.

  23. The only reason I felt comfortable publishing our top secret internal memo was because it was TL;DR. That means everything in the memo remains a trade secret!! I used TL;DR encryption! :P

  24. Just read this for the fourth time. I’d like to see this read as performance art. Any nominations for readers? OK, I’ll go first: George Takei.

  25. Seems like you’re just rationalizing your usage. You don’t know who owns it so you can use it?

    You might have a case for using an image like those meme images for free in *non-commercial* cases.

    When you’re using content for commercial purposes the burden must be on you to ensure that you’re not using other people’s copyrighted content.

    In fact the DMCA’s safe harbor would certainly not cover commercial use of content that you know you don’t have rights to.

    All content is automatically owned by its creator. It’s not lost to some bizarre idea of “fair use” just because it’s infringed upon repeatedly.

  26. I don’t really see any difference between Buzzfeed and what Huffpo did. This is the textbook veneer strategy. Generate a nice thick layer of reasonable quality content. Get some well known writers, people who are respectable to represent you. This serves as your primary line of defense when Google or Facebook’s SPAM team comes by.

    “Oh, sorry, I guess there is a little bit of bad stuff here and there. Sorry about that we’ll get it right cleaned up. Did you see all these really great articles written by respectable people?”

    Then fill your site with hundreds of thousands of pages full of crappy content farmed off other sites and mixed/mashed/rewritten.

    Buzzfeed is making the internet worse:

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/playboy/playboy-playmates-tebowing-4n6r

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/woman-casually-snacks-on-her-own-poop

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/alix/the-most-popular-dog-on-instagram

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/gavon/girl-correctly-predicts-her-own-death-on-facebook

    It’s just so much more web spam. I’m sure they can make money, but I don’t think this is the kind of startup that we should encourage to exist. It’s exploiting a flaw in humans and the web: the desire and vitality of crappy junk food content.

  27. that’s kind of a bullshit point, even if I like what buzzfeed is doing editorially (even the lists) because while slideshows can be used to goose pageviews, bubbly lists can still get the same kind of broad but not retained boost to uniques. its not pageview whoring, it’s unique whoring. which is ok. but lets not pretend its that different.

  28. I should start a company that takes the original content you do have, remixes it, and then sell ads against it :-) Fair use! It was on the internet!

  29. I agree there are many flaws in humans and the web. But we are proud of what we do at BuzzFeed. We make great entertainment, we do great reporting, and we do great branded content for clients. All three matter to us and the people who work in each area take pride in their work and try to make the post stuff they can.

    We aren’t a personalized sharing platform like twitter or facebook so what we post won’t adapt to your particular tastes and it is possible you just don’t like the wide range of stuff we publish. That is OK. We know we won’t reach everyone and the media business isn’t winner take all. Some people will prefer to just read the New Yorker and that is totally fine.

    What sites do you like? What field do you work in? Curious where you are coming from with your views on the media.

  30. Excellent post. I fully agree with the approach of striking the right balance on the editorial front. Good luck for the future.

  31. Thanks for letting Chris share this @twitter-879521:disqus – it is really insightful to see the way a startup CEO thinks about his/her business and you make some great points both in the post and the comments. When you wrote this was it your expectation that this would get out into the “public” or did you really mean it to only stay within the Buzzfeed team?

  32. Thanks for responding to my comment Jonah, I appreciate it. However I question the notion that the operators of a haunted maze in Canada would be web savy enough to contact Buzzfeed to promote their maze. It’s much more likely that someone at Buzzfeed ran across the funny photos and decided to post them, no?

    Here’s another example, the Lindsay Lohan playboy pics: (SFW) http://www.buzzfeed.com/jpmoore/lindsay-lohans-playboy-spread-nsfw

    Your staff posted them for a brief time while they were a hot commodity, and then took them down after you were probably sent a notice. Jack Moore even writes “So we had to take these images down, but there’s still an article here, and that’s clearly what you came here for.” It’s very wink-wink.

    This violation is more egregious because the more people who see the pics, the fewer magazines Playboy sells. What do you say to that?

  33. Playboy had record sales on that issue and often magazines intentionally leak pictures and covers because online buzz drives news stand sales.

    I had a lawyer come up to me at a party once to apologize for sending me a take down request. His client was a celebrity that intentionally leaked photos of herself and then had her lawyers send C&Ds to make it seem like she didn’t leak them herself. This happens all the time and is an actual promotional strategy for many celebrities and magazines!!!

    I’m not saying you don’t have a point or that we are perfect every time. But often the situation is different than what people assume at first glance looking at a post. And we have editors who are getting better and better at this stuff, especially since Ben Smith joined 6 months ago. (We were more of an experimental tech lab before Ben joined.)

  34. Wow. For those of you who don’t work in digital media/news, you won’t know how incredibly insightful the memo is… not to mention the priorities being (in my humble experience) totally spot-on.

    I found #2 and #3 the most profound coming from a media CEO (ppv = monies after all // and fixed costs internally = cash-flow issues in the short-term). As the head of product and tech at Global Grind these are issues I grapple with every day, and I can say with full confidence that Jonah’s perspective is rare… and is what is driving Buzzfeed’s success.

    Anyway. +1 for Jonah, the investors and Buzzfeed.

    R

  35. I wrote it for BuzzFeed employees first as we were preparing for an “all hands” meeting to discuss the second half of the year. Afterwards I sent it to investors and the board. A few people responded that they wished the memo was public so I decided to share.

  36. A. You aren’t making this entertainment, you’re just reposting it from somewhere else.
    B. Your reporting is minimal, most of the time you’re quoting from other sources.
    C. Branded content? Isn’t your memo about how lamo other publishers are for producing “new sections” for brands? What’s the difference?

  37. Yeah, but Comscore shows about 1/3-1/2 of anybody’s internal numbers. I.e. comparing anybody’s internal numbers to Comscore numbers will make the internals seem inflated.

  38. Disagree. Lists that are awesome are awesome. Slideshows that are awesome still suck a little bit. All things that are terrible remain terrible.

  39. I’d just like to thank you for asking permission before publishing an internal memo. That’s respectful and classy, and I wish it was the norm. (there’s a reason why so many internal memos from execs are now watered down and “safe,” sadly, and it’s not necessarily because of lack of initiative or honesty from the execs)

  40. Very ambitious and nice to see you admitting luck, while also talking about all the efforts you’re making from content through tech and business. But the comparison to Hearst and Conde strikes me as a stretch. Yes, they heighten the buzz-worthy. But they also do (or did?) a lot of costly, high-quality, long-form and difficult work. Thoughts?

  41. That’s because Comscore only shows U.S. traffic, not worldwide. So of course its lower.

    Plus who cares what everyone says their internal traffic is, Comscore is what matters to marketers/sales.

  42. Well sure, they are like Huffington Post. Jonah and Ken Lerer (Chairman of Buzzfeed) among others, came from The Huffington Post.

    I personally don’t have a problem with their strategy. Buzzfeed fills a need and it is considered conversational/social media. I enjoy going their site.

    I just don’t like them painting themselves in a different picture. They are not the next “Hearst” or “Conde Nast”. They aren’t even in the same bucket according to Comscore.

    But that might change down the road depending on their strategy. My understanding is that the site started out as a viral/social experiment in the first place and will be changing.

    Perception is reality. And if Jonah is having to go through and reply to everyone and try to convince others they are not crap, then they have bigger problems.

    I hope he can prove everyone wrong. It helps the industry as a whole.

  43. Exactly how I feel. Online publishers are stuck in a broken revenue model that leads to a bad user experience. It’s about how many ads can be on the page without completely losing a visitor and how much juice (pageviews) you can get out of a user before they are gone forever. It’s chopping down the orange tree in order to get the orange juice instead of realizing the tree can produce more fruit if you “pick” it right. [Bad analogy?]

  44. As someone who’s worked for a few major media companies in both editorial and sales capacities, I agree that Jonah’s approach — expert editors, investing in and understanding technology, treating all business functions as equals — is far, far superior to how legacy media companies are run.

    In a legacy environment, there’s always a primary content star (e.g., TV for NBC, print for Ziff Davis, print for Hearst, etc.) around which the entire psyche of the company revolves, like a solar system predicated on gravitational solipsism. All other business units — e.g., a TV station’s web site — are typically given fewer funds and fewer experts. They don’t spend time to understand their business in a holistic sense. Silos develop. Grudges form. The result tends to be crap.

    Of course, there are vast differences in scale and revenue b/w Buzzfeed and Hearst etc., and quality is ultimately subjective. But what Jonah understands is that in order to truly serve a reader, you have to know that reader’s psychology, and speak to it. That’s what makes great content. Fundamentally, legacy media companies fail in that regard. And that regard is the future.

  45. The problem isn’t the slideshow, but the presentation. You take that same slideshow, convert it to a video with narration, and all the criticism against it goes away. It’s not the pig. It’s the shade of lipstick.

  46. Just like you said, #3 is great (and that ties into #7). And just like seemingly everyone else here, I am not a fan of slideshows. For readers it’s just too annoying.

    Great read.

  47. A. We have a very talented team focused on creating entertaining post. B. We do lots of original reporting, we don’t aggregate other sources, and the way Ben attracts such amazing talent is by letting reporters do real reporting instead of rewriting and aggregation. C. We don’t launch new sections because of advertiser demand, we launch them because we think they are editorially interesting.

  48. That’s pretty awesome! There’s still a lot to solve in the content sharing space…

  49. Chris, thanks for posting. You’ve written a lot about purchase intent being the differentiator between valuable and mediocre advertising. While ‘social advertising’ is well integrated on Buzzfeed and no doubt gets traction in terms of engagement, their challenge is not dissimilar to Facebook and Twitter when it comes to creating sustainable value. As an investor, how do you view that?

  50. This may be naive and I don’t make a nickel off slide shows, so I’ll ask innocently – if slideshows suck so bad, then why do so many users engage with them? I don’t disagree there are better ways to render the same concept, but isn’t there a degree of the marketplace voting with their clicks?

  51. This is an inspiring memo, and I’m grateful you’re willing to share; I hope it inspires other publishers and/or media entrepreneurs to learn from it!

    I do respectfully and strongly disagree with point #3; I think the conventional wisdom about “owning the stack” is outdated and particularly in your case may be a function of the fact that building in-house worked for you so well at Huffington Post because at the time, publishing tools were either archaic relics from media enterprise, or simply too technically immature.

    Over the medium to long-term, I think media companies can be more efficient and move faster by choosing carefully from the best existing tech, and then hiring great staff who can spend their time customizing and optimizing the tools rather than “re-inventing the wheel” building things like user auth and page caching.

    I also think you avoid a huge ego-driven pitfall when your tech team is tasked with higher-level, outward-facing “daily maintenance and incremental updates” rather than the lower-level, inward-facing tasks of maintaining low-level code and constantly updating/overhauling it to keep current with the pace of technology growth and user demands.

    When the tech team “owns” the tools, that’s all they care about; when they’re instead tasked with customizing and incrementing them, they’re focused more on the user and the overall goals of the company.

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