BuzzFeed.com is a self-described “social news” website that you have most likely encountered on your Facebook newsfeed or Twitter stream at one point or another, or if you are like me, many times throughout the day. The site, founded in 2006, is famous for its lists, from “The Most Important Cats of 2012” to “15 Hillary Clinton-Inspired Crafts You Can Own” and almost anything in between. In their “About” section, the description reads “BuzzFeed provides the most shareable breaking news, original reporting, entertainment, and video across the social web to its global audience.” “Shareable” may be the key word in that description, because BuzzFeed is one of the rare websites that drives the majority of its incoming traffic from social media, rather than from search engines. And the model seems to be working for them, as website traffic has been cited at between 10 and 25 million unique visitors per month. The site has been described as “the millenial’s news outlet of choice,” and like most social media sites, the primary audience is teenagers and young adults.
Buzzfeed seems to have a special talent for creating lists that get around, and despite the recent additions of more serious content and columns, we aren’t likely to see a decline in those “listicles” or best-of lists any time soon. The lists have proven to be some of the most successful stories on the site, attracting the most views and shares among readers. This is the content that drives visitors to the site and which also makes them relevant for advertisers. And as it turns out, in the advertising model used at BuzzFeed, lists aren’t only important to advertising, often they are advertising. The site is conspicuously lacking in traditional ads, and this is because Buzzfeed has been a huge proponent of the “advertorial– sharable ads that look similar to its traditional content. …The most popular and successful, according to case studies on BuzzFeed, is the list post.” The goal is for BuzzFeed clients, such as Toyota and Virgin Mobile, to advertise without it seeming like advertising, and hopefully create something interesting enough that their audience will want to share with others. So lists like “The top ten reasons that you need to visit the Klondike” are great candidates for shareable, entertaining advertorials that break out of traditional advertising molds.
This model has meant considerable success for BuzzFeed, providing the site with profits and industry kudos, and a more palatable revenue-generating stream for most of the site’s customers. BuzzFeed is changing the way young people consume news, and the way that advertisers reach them. As Ki Mae Huesser of Adweek writes “readers have to get used to seeing listicles about 23 animals defying gravity alongside serious stories about, say, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Defense” with a little hidden advertising for good measure.
*This post is drawn from research for the class Media Writing at Ryerson University and the resulting article titled "Best of BuzzFeed: A Critical Examination of “Best of” Lists and Trends in Journalism and Advertising"