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How BuzzFeed Became a Media Powerhouse

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Popular blogs on the web. One of those powerhouses and blogs is BuzzFeed. it became huge. Read more here.

BuzzFeed started as a small viral content site in 2006 and has grown into one of the world’s most influential and profitable digital media companies. With a focus on data-driven content designed to be shared on social media, BuzzFeed has leveraged user-generated content and an understanding of viral trends to become a dominant force, reaching millions globally.

This article will examine BuzzFeed’s origins, practices, business model, and metrics to understand how it achieved its meteoric rise and massive popularity. Critical factors like social sharing, quizzes and lists, branded content, diversification, and global expansion will be analyzed to provide insights into BuzzFeed’s strategy and success. By looking at its evolution and innovations across text, video, and more, we can see how BuzzFeed changed online content and created a sustainable modern media company.

Origins and Early Growth

BuzzFeed was founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, Kenneth Lerer, and John S. Johnson III as a viral lab focused on tracking and creating shareable content. Peretti had previously co-founded The Huffington Post and observed how content that evoked strong emotions like awe and laughter tended to spread rapidly online.

After launching BuzzFeed in 2006, its first viral hit came from a post called “The 30 Funniest Cat Demotivational Posters.” This combined humor and cats into a shareable format. Building on this success, BuzzFeed continued experimenting with humor and animals in appealing listicle and meme formats.

The turning point for the company came in 2011 when BuzzFeed shifted towards producing its content in-house instead of just tracking viral content. Ben Smith was hired as editor-in-chief to build out a news team. Reporters were hired to cover politics, technology, business, and more while optimizing their articles for social sharing. This investment in original reporting and news put BuzzFeed on the path toward becoming a major media outlet.

In 2012, BuzzFeed had another viral hit with “The 30 Funniest Header Faces,” which got over 20 million views. This convinced founder Jonah Peretti to pursue more lists, quizzes, and light-hearted content besides news. BuzzFeed’s funny listicles were easy to read, entertain, and share, leading millions to consume and spread its content across the web.

By the end of 2013, BuzzFeed hit record traffic of over 130 million monthly unique visitors, mainly driven by substantial viral hits like “The 50 Cutest Things That Ever Happened.” Its social sharing and engagement gave BuzzFeed unparalleled access to millennials, an appealing demographic for advertisers. This rapid growth fueled BuzzFeed’s rise as a media powerhouse.

Practices and Business Model

Several vital practices and innovations enabled BuzzFeed’s rise. Here are some of the most critical factors:

  • Quizzes and Lists: BuzzFeed leveraged the viral potential of quizzes and listicles for rapid growth. Examinations like “Which City Should You Live In?” and lists like “26 Of The Most Insane Things You Can Buy On Alibaba” entertained millions of readers who enjoyed sharing them on social media. The identity-based quizzes let users share something personal about themselves, which fueled social engagement. Lists were easily scannable and optimized for sharing. This lightweight, fun content was the gasoline on BuzzFeed’s viral growth.
  • Social Sharing Focus: BuzzFeed was laser-focused on creating content designed explicitly for social sharing. Using A/B testing, data analysis, and an intuitive understanding of what gets people to engage and share online, BuzzFeed ruthlessly optimized its content for the most excellent chance of going viral. It shared promising content with its staff before publishing to hone these skills further. Everything BuzzFeed created, from quizzes to news articles, was done with sharing in mind.
  • Positive Sentiment: BuzzFeed’s content evokes positive emotions like happiness, humor, curiosity, and wonder. This uplifting sentiment made the content easy to share without barriers. Pieces like “19 Things That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” drove this engagement. This differed from news focused on negative emotions like outrage, anger, or revulsion, which often have friction for sharing.
  • Influencer Partnerships: BuzzFeed collaborated with influencers and celebrities to create content and expand its reach. Partnerships with YouTube stars helped BuzzFeed bring video content to its platform and capitalize on existing fanbases early on. Celebs like Will Smith and Ryan Reynolds have sponsored and cross-promoted BuzzFeed content, introducing it to massive new audiences.
  • Mobile Optimization:As mobile internet use grew, BuzzFeed prioritized creating content optimized for mobile devices and platforms. From listicles easily read on phones to vertical video formats ideal for Instagram and TikTok, BuzzFeed embraced the shift to mobile early on. This ensured its content translated on emerging platforms, unlocking new demographics of users.

Diversification

BuzzFeed diversified beyond just lists and quizzes early in its growth. It expanded into news, investigative journalism, culture commentary, videos, podcasts, food content, and more. This wide range of content helped BuzzFeed develop beyond the viral content niche and become a full-service multimedia publisher. Diversification also brought in high-value advertising across different categories.

On the business side, BuzzFeed makes money through:

  • Native Advertising: BuzzFeed works with brands to create sponsored listicles, quizzes, videos, and other content that users engage with voluntarily. This advertising content matches BuzzFeed’s formats and style, making it less intrusive than traditional ads.
  • Branded Content & Video: BuzzFeed produces branded video and article content sponsored directly by advertisers that promote products or services. For example, Tasty videos sponsored by a food company in BuzzFeed’s style. This content lives on BuzzFeed and is broadcast across its social channels.
  • Affiliate Links: BuzzFeed uses affiliate links to earn commissions when readers purchase products from sites like Amazon after clicking on BuzzFeed articles. Affiliate earnings are a significant portion of revenue.
  • Licensing: BuzzFeed licenses its brand and content for use on consumer products—for example, BuzzFeed-branded trivia board games.
  • Commerce: BuzzFeed earns money from its product lines and online stores selling merch, toys, apparel, and more. The BuzzFeed Product Lab creates exclusive products for its store.

This diversified business model allows BuzzFeed to generate substantial revenue from advertising and commerce across many verticals.

Growth Metrics and Popularity

By 2016, BuzzFeed had grown to over 200 million monthly unique visitors valued at $1.7 billion. Some key stats that demonstrate its massive reach and popularity include:

  • Seven billion lifetime content views: BuzzFeed has been viewed over 7 billion times, showing the massive consumer demand for its viral formats.
  • 73% awareness among millennials: A 2017 survey found that 73% were aware of BuzzFeed, demonstrating its firm grasp on young demographics.
  • Top 100 website: BuzzFeed is consistently ranked in the top 100 most trafficked websites globally by Alexa and receives over 1.5 billion monthly visits.
  • #1 most shared publisher: A 2019 NewsWhip study found BuzzFeed was the most shared digital publisher, showing its viral dominance on social media.
  • 95% revenue from digital content: Unlike newspapers and magazines, 95% of BuzzFeed revenue comes from diversified digital content, reflecting its strengths as a modern digital-first publisher.
  • Nine billion+ annual content views: In 2018, BuzzFeed surpassed over 9 billion yearly content views across its properties as its audience continued growing.
  • $300 million in revenue: By 2018, BuzzFeed was generating over $300 million in annual revenue, proving it had built a thriving and sustainable business.

These metrics demonstrate BuzzFeed’s incredible popularity and user engagement at a global level across multiple platforms and formats. The company’s product-market fit and viral growth hacking fueled its rise to become a widely recognized industry leader.

BuzzFeed News and Investigative Journalism

While BuzzFeed’s lighter content brought huge audiences, the company also built up a respected news division focused on investigative journalism and breaking significant stories.

Some of BuzzFeed News’ accomplishments include:

  • Publishing the unverified Steele dossier on Trump’s Russia ties in 2017 that dominated headlines. Despite the controversy, BuzzFeed defended releasing it, given its news value.
  • Releasing leaked Betsy DeVos education memos in 2018 detailing her plans for Title IX changes. This scoop revealed major policy shifts before they were announced.
  • Reported in 2018 that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was quietly working on Bitcoin projects. The scoop revealed a potential conflict of interest at Twitter.
  • Breaking news in 2019 of a draft plan by Trump administration officials to move migrants detained at the US-Mexico border to sanctuary cities as political retribution against Trump’s foes.
  • Winning its first Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for a series exposing the vast infrastructure in China dedicated to imprisoning and enslaving Muslims from the Xinjiang region.

This cutting-edge investigative work and BuzzFeed’s coverage of entertainment, politics, technology, and more demonstrated that its news division was more than just lists and quizzes. BuzzFeed News established itself as a formidable source of original, award-winning, and impactful journalism.

Video and Podcasts

Beyond lightweight articles, BuzzFeed has also built up massive video and podcasting operations:

Video: BuzzFeed Video produces original scripted and unscripted video series across multiple YouTube channels, including BuzzFeed Video, BuzzFeed Multiplayer, Nifty, BuzzFeed Unsolved, Tasty, and more. Some of their most popular franchises include:

  • Worth It – A travel and food show with 200+ episodes and 1.7 billion views.
  • Unsolved – A true crime series with over 280 episodes examining mysteries.
  • The Try Guys – is BuzzFeed’s most popular series, following friends trying hilarious scenarios.

Across Facebook, YouTube, and more, BuzzFeed Video has over 52 million subscribers, and its content has been viewed over 14 billion times. Successful video expansions like this bolstered BuzzFeed’s profits and relevance in the digital era.

Podcasts: On podcasts, BuzzFeed produces dozens of hit shows, including:

  • Internet Explorer – A pop culture podcast.
  • Profile – An interview series.
  • BuzzFeed News Shows – Daily and weekly news programs
  • Supernatural – An unscripted series about the unknown

BuzzFeed’s light, conversational podcasts covering its key verticals have been downloaded over 100 million times. Massively popular franchises like Internet Explorer expanded BuzzFeed’s audience reach and branding.

Global Expansion

BuzzFeed has expanded globally with editions in multiple countries:

  • BuzzFeed UK – Covers British and European viral news and culture
  • BuzzFeed Australia – Focused on Australian trends and pop culture
  • BuzzFeed Germany – Viral content localized for the German audience
  • BuzzFeed France – French culture and news
  • BuzzFeed Spain
  • BuzzFeed India
  • BuzzFeed Japan
  • BuzzFeed Mexico
  • BuzzFeed Canada
  • BuzzFeed Italy

This worldwide footprint allows BuzzFeed to tap into multiple new audiences and trends. Localized content also makes BuzzFeed partnerships more attractive globally to cross-promote content and products. International expansion remains an ongoing growth focus.

Recent Initiatives

Despite its massive size, BuzzFeed continues evolving with new initiatives:

  • Product Labs: BuzzFeed is expanding into physical products through its Product Labs division. Items like apparel, cooking tools, toys, accessories, and more let BuzzFeed extend its branding and monetize its audience beyond just content.
  • HuffPost Acquisition: BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost in early 2021 to expand its news footprint and reach 100 million more monthly readers.
  • Subscription Model: BuzzFeed launched BuzzFeed News memberships in 2021 with exclusive content and online events for paid subscribers. This diversifies beyond advertising into user subscriptions.
  • Electric: A new project announced in 2021 focused on creating content for film, TV, and streaming services. This brings BuzzFeed into high-value original video content.
  • Complex Networks Acquisition: In 2021, BuzzFeed acquired Complex Networks with its massive Gen Z male audience, further diversifying its demographics.
  • Morning Show: BuzzFeed partnered with Twitter in 2021 to launch a live morning show as a new experiment in daily social video content.

After 16 years, BuzzFeed continues to evolve with acquisitions, subscriptions, commerce, and more, showing its ambition to grow and dominate online media is still strong in the 2020s.

Conclusion

BuzzFeed leveraged viral content, social sharing, and an obsession with optimizing digital platforms to become one of the most influential media brands of the 21st century. Its lightweight, uplifting content made it famous for everyday entertainment and escapism. BuzzFeed diversified this model into news, investigative reporting, video, and more to build a sustainable modern media empire.

While it began with cat listicles and quiz posts, BuzzFeed showed the power of digitally native content. Its content styles became the internet language that every brand raced to mimic. BuzzFeed’s ascent demonstrated that a new media company could be built from the internet and thrive in the digital age. BuzzFeed became a leader in the second wave of internet media through constant experimentation and innovation. Its creative vision of content made for sharing shaped online culture and enabled its meteoric rise to build one of the defining media businesses of the digital era.

 

Mandy B.
Mandy B.https://iammandyb.com
Explore the world of MandyB, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, writer, and creative director. Follow along as she plays dress-up and shares her journey of making herself pretty while diving into entrepreneurship and creativity.
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