WHAT makes Buzzfeed work?
There’s an interesting story in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy. Written by Ben Smith, he explains why he went to Buzzfeed in 2011, opting out of Politico for a site that lives on trending topics. It’s basically the story of how the world is reported and digested today. Here’s an excerpt:
The answer is that this is a difficult era for snobs. The same people — disproportionately young, mobile, and well-educated — who come to BuzzFeed for entertaining pop culture actually care about what’s happening in the world. And if you glance at your Twitter feed, you’ll probably see them sharing quite a bit of both. The new social web is increasingly serving up serious information about the economy, politics, and, yes, even foreign policy. Old-school editors may be uncomfortable with a home page that would feature “33 Startling Photos of Porn Stars With and Without Their Makeup On” right alongside the latest intel from North Korea. But that’s pretty much an ordinary day on my Twitter feed, and an ordinary day on the web for BuzzFeed’s 40 million monthly users.
I was never a web snob.
It reminds of when I jumped from the LA Weekly where I was relationship consultant, also writing about politics, to join a soft-core adult site to become one of the very first editors on the Internet on the first site to make real money on the web. My friends thought I was nuts. Talking about politics on the Editors Desk, including dissecting the Lewinski scandal and Ken Starr’s treatment of Susan McDougal, I likely had more readers than anyone on the web at the time. I conducted one of the first surveys on the web about Clinton, Lewinski and what constitutes a “sexual relationship.” The site’s owner was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with a profile, and just about everywhere else, which got my picture in USA Today. The site allowed me to reach men, and some women, looking at pretty, half-clothed girls, many of whom were very interested in politics. Being able to mine the web at its infancy, with millions of daily hits that few others were getting, was an education.
Cross-mining serious content through frivolous subjects is nothing new. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows anything about the web’s infancy that it works. It doesn’t surprise me, even if readers sometimes get on their high horse because something unimportant is being covered. If you’re not a professional you don’t know how it needs to be done to stay alive on the web.
Whether it’s “Hairless Cats that Look Like Vladimir Putin.” which is highlighted in Ben Smith’s article, or “Jack Nicholson Talks Dirty,” which appeared in Playboy in December 2012, once you get people’s attention you can mine their interests in the world. I was one of the first to do it in 1997.
It’s why Huffington Post makes its jumping off point entertainment. From there you can take a reader anywhere.
But first you have to get their attention and it really doesn’t matter how you do it.