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The big power shift in media: BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti [SXSW]

Jonah Peretti

As the Interactive portion of SXSW began winding down, BuzzFeed’s CEO and founder Jonah Peretti shared a few of the insights that he and his puppy-and-kitten-loving team have discovered work well for their media site, BuzzFeed, and in fact, indicate the kind of shift that is taking place.

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BuzzFeed, with its lists and cute pictures of bunnies, taps into what Peretti calls the bored-at-work network (hundreds of people stuck at work all day behind a computer looking for distraction, which has created a network bigger than most broadcasters), and combines it with the bored-in-line network (those who check their phones while waiting for something). He says BuzzFeed focuses on creating content but also how to get that content shared: “You need to spend 50% of your time on the idea and 50% on how you spread it. Not 95% and then only a tiny portion on how to spread the idea.” At BuzzFeed, they “starve” ideas which aren’t giving good return on promotion and “feed” those that do.

As a result, the BuzzFeed team abide by a few rules, which Peretti believes are valuable to follow as this shift in media continues:

Learn from the Mormons

Mormons are intent on spreading their religion, he says, and in this way, they track progress diligently and this underscores his point of having an idea and a way to spread it.

Understand your platform

“What spreads depends on the platform. We behave wildly differently depending on context. The Google world view is about connecting people with information. It’s very solitary but very useful,” he said. Whereas the Facebook world view is about connecting people with their friends and letting them express themselves. Peretti gave the example of pics of Basset Hounds making faces while running as an example of something that wouldn’t ordinarily be typed into Google, but those pictures work well for social sharing online.

The big shift to social content is coming to advertising

Peretti sees the need to be ready for this shift towards social advertising and away from traditional advertising. “Get ready for it,” he advises, “We work with brands to make advertising useful and interesting instead of shoving it the side (as newspapers usually do).”

People love the Paris cafe

This is Peretti’s go-to concept when asked about the mix of viral cat pics and other fluffy animals that feature on BuzzFeed alongside the serious news journalism it started to employ during the US elections. “Stay close to what makes us human,” he says. “Just because you go to a Paris cafe with a book on philosophy and the newspaper, doesn’t mean you are dumb if you turn around to pat the dog at the table next to you.” It’s this range of interests and emotions, he believes, that makes us humans, and content needs to reflect that.

Social is a way of thinking

Peretti believes there are no tricks to getting content to spread, because, again, it’s all about just being human. “When you go out and laugh with your friends, you don’t remember the jokes, but only that you laughed,” Similarly, he says, when you share content with friends you are connecting with your friends online throughout the day. Peretti says it’s not about the informational value of each piece of content but about the waves of positive emotion they spread. This goes for serious stories too – such as BuzzFeed’s Powerful Images of 2011 post which was a viral hit for the site. People feel empathetic to causes and want to help, or at least try do their bit to spread the word.

Image: neoneuromancer (via Flickr)

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