3 Content Takeaways from BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti

We’ve already completed our first day of Spredfast Summit with a full day of takeaways from social marketing leaders at today’s best brands and leading media companies. The day kicked off with a keynote from Jonah Peretti, Co-founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, who shared the origin story of BuzzFeed and shared three content takeaways for social marketers along the way.

How did BuzzFeed come to be? It’s a story that many BuzzFeed readers can relate to—it all started with procrastination. Peretti started to create viral content like The Rejection Line, while putting off work on his thesis at the MIT Media Lab. The success of his small projects was accidental—but he started to ask himself, how could you do this intentionally? People were obviously craving a new type of content that fit our increasingly digital and social lifestyles.

Here are three takeaways from Jonah, on his path to create content for the new social landscape.

1) Experiments can turn into new forms of media.

Want to know what’s coming next? According to Peretti, keep an eye on early scenes. Think of musicians, comedians, and other creatives who start doing things, not because they see dollar signs, but because they are experimenting and trying to understand a new space.

Think about Apple. The personal computer was the result of a hobbyist scene. Can you even imagine doing your job today without a personal computer or a smart phone?

BuzzFeed itself has grown by bringing this type of early scene innovators into the fold.

Ze Frank, the head of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures created a website “How to Dance Properly” for his friends back in 2001 that ended up reaching a much broader audience. Now, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures has a 4-acre campus where they create original and branded content that garners over 500 Million Monthly Views.

BuzzFeed News Editor in Chief, Ben Smith, got his start by scooping traditional political reporters by publishing blog content from his Blackberry. Since bringing his agile reporting style to BuzzFeed News, it’s become the fastest growing section of the site, garnering 20 Million monthly unique visitors.

2) Content should evolve to suit how it’s consumed and where it’s where it’s distributed.

Media is being consumed in new places and new ways. As people shift behavior to watch more streaming content or surface headlines within their News feeds and timelines, the media companies and brands that invest in adopting and understanding these new mediums are winning big.

But the social landscape and the way we consume content is constantly evolving. At BuzzFeed, there is a culture of testing and iteration to make content easily discoverable and shareable. 

For instance, by giving mobile Pinterest referrals a single option to share content back to Pinterest (instead of options to share across multiple social channels), BuzzFeed increased Pin clicks by 10X.

As social channels become increasingly visual, another important consideration is using imagery that displays beautifully when shared across channels. When creating lifestyle content such as recipes, BuzzFeed includes Pin-optimized cards.

 3) Brands can learn from editorial content to improve their own content.

As a brand, you have extra constraints when creating content. You need to communicate a marketing message or drive a particular action. But your consumer wants quality content whether they are getting it from media outlet, a friend, or your brand. The trick is to find the sweet spot.

Friskies did this by working with BuzzFeed Motion Pictures to create “Dear Kitten”  a take on Ze Frank’s wildly successful “Sad Cat Diary”.  While a sad cat narrating the trials and tribulations of daily feline life was a little too dark for the cat food brand, they were able to rework the narrative into an older, more experienced cat sharing life lessons with a new kitten in the household.

 The video had the same entertainment value to viewers—“Sad Cat Diary” had 17.4 million views, “Dear Kitten" has 17.2 million views and counting. But does “Dear Kitten” effectively communicate Friskies’ message to consumers? Yes. The video has led to a 57.8% brand lift in purchase intent.

A final message throughout Jonah’s presentation was the idea that, ultimately, it’s not about the content. It’s about understanding the role that content plays in people's lives. By zooming out from the content itself and understanding how people are engaging with it and the kinds of effects it has on them, you start to understand that the complexity and quality comes from the audience’s reaction.

This approach has obviously paid off for BuzzFeed, they have built a mechanism for reach and distribution by making content that people love to share every day. If you’re at #SFSummit I’d love to know what else you took away from Jonah’s session, tweet me at @cjdoman and let me know!

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Courtney Doman

Courtney is the Content Marketing Manager at Spredfast. She focuses on sharing smart social ideas and insights to transform the way companies connect with consumers. Courtney is a passionate football fan (supporting Arsenal and the USMNT), curious traveller, and ambitious home cook.