BuzzFeed has surpassed 30 million users and is on-track to triple its revenue from 2011. Triple! So, what’s the secret? What makes the BuzzFeed brand of aggregation so competitive against rivals like Huffington Post and Reddit?
According to an internal pat-on-the-back email, BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti listed several factors: BuzzFeed’s scrolling list style is more user friendly than slideshows; the company built its CMS from scratch; it considers content creators to be professionals of equal value; and they’ve been lucky.
So what are the top categories of BuzzFeed stories? And what does that say about our monkey-brains that we click them as quick as they roll them out?
Here they are:
Photos for Photos' Sake
Many of BuzzFeed’s top stories are simply photo collections that some editor there has wrapped together with some concept designed to give the whole package a "viral lift." BuzzFeed is not afraid of superlatives or causing readers to contemplate their own death. Apparently, a headline that tells a reader to click before they die is a powerful call-to-action:
This is a no-brainer. Everyone loved 2011, except for tsunami survivors, 9/11 survivors on its 10-year anniversary, tornado survivors, Oslo shooting survivors and Occupy protesters who got pepper sprayed a lot. But hey, the Arab Spring. Right?
See what they did here? If you died before seeing these 32 pictures, then what? BuzzFeed Purgatory? You got Shaq holding a panda; a walrus with a giant jello mold; a polar bear with a traffic cone stuck on its head ... how can you not click, and then forward the link?
Sometimes they oversell on the headline. What’s not explainable about that portrait of a well-dressed child smoking a cigarette next to a chicken. Please, BuzzFeed. Oh, what’s that? Six Sousaphonists on a train engine? OK, that’s kinda weird.
Let’s be honest. The Internet is a tough place to be nice. Why say 'Hello,' when you can abuse people with anonymous comments. So, it restores faith in humanity that BuzzFeed has found a profit center in serving up happy, feel-good stories for people to pass around online, making the Internet just a little less edgy.
This is one of BuzzFeed’s most popular viral pieces, with over 8 million page views. You go Christians apologizing at a gay rights parade; Fukushima heroes; saving a lamb from the ocean; hating on Snooki; it’s all here.
There are some good-hearted people at BuzzFeed, and what they’ve done here is blur the line between mocking people and empathizing with them. Sure, it’s funny that that fat guy on the bus is dressed like Cartman from South Park, but instead of laughing at him, let’s hang out with him. That’s BuzzFeed’s secret, and it gets them viral clicks because people are like, "Yeah!"
BuzzFeed editors do a good job at crossing boundaries. See? This was supposed to make you happy? It does that, in part, by making fun of a long list of people that aren’t you. Feel good, laugh at others.
Schadenfreude / Laughing At Other People
Frankly, this is why the Internet was invented by Al Gore and DARPA back in the early 90s - to be able to laugh at other humans after total nuclear annihilation. So it’s no surprise that BuzzFeed has become the master at artfully packaging other people’s pain into stories designed to be shared with others.
Sure, lots of churches put up Jesus billboards next to strip club billboards; that’s not new. But someone should look into why there’s lots of giant carrot ads pointing at ads of women bending over. Does BuzzFeed have an investigative division, yet?
No gripe is too small for BuzzFeed to find a "viral lift" out of complaining about hanging cuticles, poorly sharpened pencils and the Black Eyed Peas.
Crocodiles; turtles; various dried reptiles; frogs; pig faces. Our future overlords are hilarious.
LOL Cats (and Dogs)
It’s been said before but bears repeating - the Internet is the dog park for cat people. They don’t get outside much, so they just click and forward pictures of cats to each other all day long. By some measures it accounts for up to 30 percent of all Web traffic.
This headline would go viral by itself; add all sorts of cute cats and its viral magic. How many BuzzFeed office hours does it take to find all these? Or do they just drug cats and take pictures of them in-house?
Don’t be mad at me baby bear; I’m not the one that put you in the snow. Don’t judge me, Boston Terrier. And wow, otters can be really condescending.
This is a cross-genre hit: it’s animals AND they’re happy. So it’s basically a no-lose situation. Anyone with a soul and some down-time at work would forward this along.
The first rule of success is you gotta know your audience, and BuzzFeed knows that its audience is a bunch of geeky nerds, who want to forward stories that make them look smart. So...
The fact that Kei$ha’s Tik-Tok has outsold every Beatles single is depressing enough on its face, but when you consider that shouldn’t people just be stealing her songs from Pirate Bay or Bit Torrent or something, and that fact that back in the day, the only way you could steal a Beatles album was to... steal a Beatles album. Well, that’s just depressing.
It looks like a giant first-generation iPod. Remember those?
The first clue this is nerd comedy is that the BuzzFeed editors couldn’t decide on going with "font" or "typography" in the headline. Someone was like, "Fonts are only for computers; typefaces are for print." And someone else was like, "Fine. Whatever."
It’s amazing that the top 70 BuzzFeed stories aren’t all about Lindsay Lohan and Snooki; and while celeb themes do pop up in other BuzzFeed genres, it’s actually pretty amazing that celeb-based stories are not the end-all/be-all of BuzzFeed, just a critical component.
Good for guys and for the girls. Guys: "Dude, pin-up girls from back in the day are smokin’ hot." Girls: "They Photoshopped the hell out of them then, too, huh?"
BuzzFeed didn’t invent the Internet genre known as Twitter Shaming, but they do it better than anyone. Pick a topic, and then compile the screenshots of real people’s tweets saying really dumb stuff, put them all together, and BOOM, everyone feels better knowing we’re not these people who wish Chris Brown would beat them up.
Even the most efficient, hard-working person in your office is like, “OMG, Jenna from 30 Rock is the white trash cousin from Vacation?!”
It's a Wild, Wild World (News/Politics)
In a perfect world, this would be the very top category, and all BuzzFeed’s readers would be very globally aware and politically active. However, the fact is, we’re just happy it made it into the mix at all. Obama has a lot of stiff competition with Snooki and photos of judgmental bunny rabbits.
Here’s another in the Twitter Shaming genre. People, Canada’s health care is way more socialist than ours. It’s like saying you’re going to move to Mexico because you’re sick of our tap water.
Presidential politics and pot smoking is the BuzzFeed sweet spot, so here their editors took excerpts from the Obama biography on his weed-smoking days, intercut it with period photos of Barry Obama, and PRESTO - viral gold.
He beats up children while other people watch. Case closed.
Got a BuzzFeed favorite or observation? Share it in the comments.