Back in July, Chris Dixon passed along an email BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti sent to the company’s investors detailing their strategy:
We care about the experience of people who read BuzzFeed and we don’t try to trick them for short term gain. This approach is surprisingly rare.
How does this matter in practice? First of all, we don’t publish slideshows. Instead we publish scrollable lists so readers don’t have to click a million times and can easily scroll through a post. The primary reason to publish slideshows, as far as I can tell, is to juice page views and banner ad impressions. Slideshows are super annoying and lists are awesome so we do lists!
For the same reason, we don’t show crappy display ads and we make all our revenue from social advertising that users love and share. We never launched one of those “frictionless sharing” apps on Facebook that automatically shares the stories you click because those apps are super annoying. We don’t post deceptive, manipulative headlines that trick people into reading a story. We don’t focus on SEO or gaming search engines or filling our pages with millions of keywords and tags that only a robot will read. We avoid anything that is bad for our readers and can only be justified by short term business interests.
Instead, we focus on publishing content our readers love so much they think it is worth sharing. It sounds simple but it’s hard to do and it is the metric that aligns our company with our readers. In the long term is good for readers and good for business.
He goes on:
A couple years ago, we were trying unsuccessfully to sell social advertising to a market that only wanted to buy banners but things have changed dramatically since then. Now many agencies and brands are refusing to buy banners, companies that rely on traditional display units are suffering, and budgets are shifting rapidly to social advertising. One of our board members, who was initially skeptical of our decision to not run banners, recently said that “social advertising will be the biggest media business since cable television.” Times have changed.
Now we are leading the market, which is a huge opportunity, but it was pure luck that a social advertising market even exists for us to lead. It’s like we happened to start surfing a few minutes before a great wave rolled in. Or we built a locomotive and a few days later the train tracks got built. We were obsessed with social content and ads before anyone else cared and it was extremely lucky that the world shifted toward us when it did. The question now is how well we capitalize on our good fortune.
Some companies only care about journalism and as a result the people focusing on lighter editorial fare or advertising are second class citizens. Some companies only care about traffic which creates an environment where good journalists can’t take the time to talk to sources or do substantive work. Some companies only care about ad revenue and actually force editors to create new sections or content just because brands want to sponsor it.
People don’t do good work when they feel like losers and are second class citizens within their own company. Fortunately we have avoided that problem. We love the silly, we love the substantive, and we love making advertising that is actually compelling. And when we are good at these three things it benefits everyone and the world.
One more highlight:
Our teams focused on social advertising are totally killing it, with a consultative sales team full of ideas for clients, a creative services team making incredibly entertaining and sharable ads, a social discovery team expanding campaigns to Facebook, Twitter, and across the web, and an ad ops team that traffics our campaigns with skill, grace, and dogged determination – it’s not surprising we are blowing away all our revenue goals. Gong!