Buzzfeed the disruptor

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With the leaked and digital transformation there’s a lot of focus on the struggles of the newspaper business to remain competitive in the internet age.

Buzzfeed, like all great digital businesses, rewards revisiting and close attention. It is evolving so quickly that it’s just lazy to have it mentally filed under “listicles & kitten photos” or “death of news culture”.

The New York Times understands this, as its leaked report on innovation makes clear. Look at its elegant visual explanation of Clayton Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma and for “Disruptors”, read Buzzfeed and its amazing social media distribution engine now being used to develop higher quality journalism.

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In an interview at the DLD NYC 14 conference, Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti talked about the company’s strategy. It’s well worth 20 minutes of viewing, but I’ve noted some bits that resonated for me below…

  • Social content: Asked “what is Buzzfeed?”, Peretti responds, that “Buzzfeed is a social content website….  Social content is content that people think is awesome enough to pass on to their friends.” He says that whenever a new media arrives, people put the old kind of content into the new distribution technology. When that fails, new players bring in new types of content that work…
  • Scale. Buzzfeed has the scale of a traditional media company without the industrial media infrastructure, he says. 75% of our audience [120 million uniques a month by its internal metrics] arrive through social media.
  • News and entertainment. Peretti desribes Buzzfeed as a news and entertainment company – just like newspapers always have been (to illustrate this he cites crossword puzzles and property supplements, but of course a lot of news is essentially entertainment – think sensationalist coverage of celebrities and murders). Buzzfeed is investing in foreign correspondents and investigative journalism now – it has two reporters in Ukraine right now, for instance.
  • Mobile-social audience. People spend more time looking at phone screens than TV screens, Perretti points out, but “In a world where media companies are still making media for legacy systems that are not nearly as relevant, especially for younger readers…”
  • Empathetic, not authoritative. He contrasts Buzzfeed’s tone and approach as being more about empathy, where traditional media would be more about authority.
  • Not selling “adjacency”. Traditional measures like clicks (CPMs etc.) aren’t as important to Buzzfeed, as it doesn’t sell “adjacency” (putting ads next to content. Buzzfeed’s model, is a platform for social content (CMS, data science, brand. metrics, systems)  which they use for news, entertainment and branded content (the latter being the revenue of course). “CPMs are based on this mistaken notion that there is limited space [on the internet]…” News, entertainment and branded content can all find their audiences, he says – there’s no limit [beyond users’ attention , of course.]

: : Bonus link: My Brilliant Noise colleague, David Preece has some analysis of the New York Times Innovation report.

: : Timothy B. Lee at Vox has some interesting analysis both of the NYT report and of the innovator’s dilemma model – incumbents rarely change and survive, he points out. H/T Adam Tinworth.