A Start Up Case Study: Buzzfeed
There are few people in the Western world who are unfamiliar with Buzzfeed. The media giant is responsible for some of the most diverse, shareable articles, listicles, vlogs and quizzes on the internet, and produces over 700+ different types of content per day. Their stats are growing, and with a Youtube account collecting over 2 billion views, Buzzfeed is widely recognised as a viral goldmine, ready to make history as one of the most successful companies of the digital age.
The Unexpected Origins
Surprisingly, Buzzfeed never actually set out to become as culturally significant as it now stands to be, originating in 2006 from a small digital lab, attempting to monitor and record viral trends. Created by two young analysts, Jonah Peretti and John. S. Johnson III, the company was intended to remain small, and ambivalent towards media trends and fads, yet has now become the forefront leader in popular clothing, viral controversies, food habits and media consumption.
Peretti’s move to create Buzzfeed was initially conceived as a side project from his full time job at The Huffington Post with Johnson III, his former supervisor. Without writers, content creators, editors or any additional staff, the company was run on algorithms and data analysis, a true testament to the innovative start up culture it now stands to represent. Used in conjecture with BuzzBot, a messenger bot that would send links of top viral content to users of the site, and an attempted curation and content description system, the foundations of the Buzzfeed we know and love today began to take shape. After hiring political blogger, Ben Smith, Buzzfeed began to consume and share more news and journalist media, slowly becoming recognised as a secondary current affairs site to find both political and social commentary, alongside fun viral entertainment.
In 2014, Buzzfeed received $50m in funding through a US venture capital firm, and was valued at $850m through native advertising deals and user traffic. Using social media as a proven promotional platform, as well as sponsorship from high profile companies and industries, their industry status began to rise, and the company evolved into one of the best media companies in history.
The Buzzfeed Editorial
On the surface oflies a collection of fun, engaging and relatable content – drawn up in easily consumable formats, such as short sketches, videos, lists and quizzes, taken from recent trends and current affairs stories. With their home site split into ‘News, Videos, Quizzes, Tasty and More’, their content structure is entirely diverse, featuring comical listicles about unicorn doughnuts, to serious journalism about discrimination and sexual assault. As the website began to expand in 2014, more and more video content began to emerge from the company, following the same diverse structure as its written counterpart. Exploring various issues such as media stereotypes, cultural differences, beauty, food and topical trends, the editors and contributors to these videos have amassed a form of celebrity status, with breakaway influencers such as the TryGuys and Safiya Nygaard even going on to create their own brands and businesses following the Buzzfeed sensation.
Buzzfeed’s Youtube presence is similarly categorised by it’s content relevance, with secondary channels branching out from the central Buzzfeed account. These consist of: Nifty, Boldly, Tasty, Pero Like, Buzzfeed News, LadyLike, The TryGuys, Buzzfeed Violet, Buzzfeed Blue and Buzzfeed Celeb – each featuring a different type of content and being hugely successful in terms of viewer and subscriber figures. The most popular videos from Buzzfeed, interestingly, are: ‘If Disney Princesses Were Real’, and ‘Women’s Ideal Body Types Throughout History’, revealing not only a particularly female-centric content drive but also the conflicting nature of content – from light comedy and media interest, to social comment and feminist theory.
The Statistics and Celebrities
To this day, Buzzfeed’s number are rising. Their content can be found translated into over 7 different languages, and has been read and shared by some impressively relevant influencers over the years. Emma Watson has been interviewed on the Buzzfeed set (whilst playing with kittens), James Corden and Jamie Lee Curtis have been greeted by Buzzfeed on the red carpet, and Shay Mitchell has been treated to a spelling bee by the Buzzfeed team. Their reach is growing and growing, as are the statistics for their success:
Start Up Culture
Arguably, one of the most appealing aspects about Buzzfeed is it’s small time roots, in centre of start up culture. Despite many recent ‘Why I Left Buzzfeed’ videos citing differently, it would appear that the Buzzfeed organisation is still, fundamentally a start up. With a flexible approach to freelance and contracted work, a modern and agile office space, a contemporary attitude to equal opportunities and diversity, and the central message of viral trends still remaining at the heart of the business, the company serves as a unique and vastly successful example of a well run start up. Getting to know those who work in the business, with the opportunity for external contributors and influencers means that the start up feel remains a constant, against their blanket digital presence, and their direct consumer approach is what has kept them so relevant after over 11 years in the business.