The BuzzFeed Way: News and a “Culture of Play”

Joe Puglisi, Director of Creative Strategy
Joe Puglisi, Director of Creative Strategy

Top tips for social sharing? Talk to Joe Puglisi, Director of Creative Strategy at BuzzFeed: During an M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program student visit to BuzzFeed’s cool new offices last week, Puglisi strongly stressed the need for emotion and empathy when conveying a message to viewers, “Ask yourself: ‘Would I share this?’ ‘Is it human?’ ‘Is it relevant?’” BuzzFeed was founded in 2006, and has become well known for posts ranging from “The Dress” (which sparked a national conversation about the color of a dress) to award-winning investigative journalism pieces such as “The New American Slavery: Invited to the U.S., Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare;” this won BuzzFeed an Ellie Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for best public interest journalism. Whether it’s reporting or analysis of current events by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, amazing cat listicles, or a post titled “23 Dogs Who Will Make You a Happier Person,” you can find a disparate yet enticing mix of news and entertainment content on the homepage- or even shared in your Facebook Feed. The company, we learned, has a “culture of play,” and having a great sense of humor is one criterion for getting hired.

Jack Shepherd, Director of Creative Development
Jack Shepherd, Director of Creative Development

BuzzFeed’s top team was eager to explain how they make their diverse content work together. Jack Shepherd, one of the company’s early employees and now the Director of Creative Development, talked about what he called the “trifecta.” There are 3 different pillars to a post that make people want to share it, he explained. “Emotion is the first and most important pillar. When people share things, they are sharing not just the content, but curating the emotional experiences with their friends. It has worked so well for us because you can’t fake that.” The second pillar is identity, referencing how people relate to content, and how members of an audience will share a post to express themselves. Information is third, the ability to teach someone something that they did not know. “Our readers are smart people who like to be entertained and informed at the same time,” Shepherd said.

The offices at BuzzFeed
The offices at BuzzFeed

Monetizing this sharable content is key, of course, and Puglisi explained to us the rationale behind the BuzzFeed way. All advertisements for the site are made in house. You will never see banner ads scrawled along the top of the screen; instead, videos and customized content are used to spotlight a product. Rather than having a product front and center of a screen, BuzzFeed will create content around the item, making it a story unto itself. As an example, Puglisi pointed out a Tasty video in which Jarden’s Oster Grill was included; the link to purchase the product was at the bottom of the screen. Shortly after the video premiered, the grill sold out on both Amazon and Target, and the company rushed to manufacture more grills. A video BuzzFeed created to promote Purina Dog Chow instantly went viral and is now part I of a series.

The point is to make “native advertising,” as it is called, as intriguing as the editorial content itself. BuzzFeed has mastered this strategy.

Puglisi (left) and Senior Video Producer Jeremy Briggs
Puglisi (left) and Senior Video Producer Jeremy Briggs

Last April, BuzzFeed decided to experiment with Facebook Live, a relatively new feature in which people can live stream an event to all their friends. Jeremy Briggs, BuzzFeed’s Senior Video Producer, talked to us about the literal and viral explosion caused by their experiment putting rubber bands around a watermelon. The internet audience was hooked, unable to look away until the melon inevitably burst.

The video attracted 800,000 viewers, and started what Briggs describes as a “cool conversation” around whether live streaming is the new television. “A lot of the ideas happen naturally,” he said. “What’s the social interaction that you want to happen around the video?” He noted that when considering whether a post has been successful, his team looks at every angle, considering not only shares, but the amount of comments or interactions the audience has with the post.

Puglisi and BuzzFeed Tasty Team Lead Scott Loitsch (right)
Puglisi and BuzzFeed Tasty Team Lead Scott Loitsch (right)

Scott Loitsch, team lead for Buzzfeed Tasty, then joined the conversation to talk about the wildly popular cooking channel launched on Facebook. Tasty is well known for quick videos, showing how to create short and delicious meals featuring comfort foods like mac and cheese, food combos (such as cheese stuffed pretzels), or more serious dinners such as quiche. Loitsch noted in disbelief that Tasty had launched only a little over a year ago and has six international sites including in Japan and Brazil. Loitsch explained that they have local teams in each area, where they explore and experiment with what food and values spotlight the culture of that country. For example, in Japan you can see recipes for chocolate mochi balls, while on Brazil’s Tasty page, you’ll find Torta de Banana da Vovó (Grandma’s Banana Pie).

The Tasty Kitchen
The Tasty Kitchen

The visit concluded with a tour led by Christina DiRusso, Director of Communications. Before she escorted everyone to the Tasty kitchen, she explained how everything that BuzzFeed uses is homegrown, whether it’s their video player, apps, or advertisements. We learned that Tasty videos are shot and optimized for the video player on Facebook so that the viewer can have the best experience possible. We also learned that all recipes are tested and leftovers given to the staff. Yum!

Students with Christina DiRusso, Director of Communications (far right)
Students with Christina DiRusso, Director of Communications (far right)

We then moved onto the floor housing the entertainment office. Each of the company’s six floors has a theme, DiRusso explained, and the entertainment floor is devoted to emojis. Looking around, we noticed that the glass doors are embellished with decals of favorite emojis. The walls on this floor are covered with dry-erase boards. We noted scrawled lists of things like “What memes to watch” or inspirational quotes such as, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Beyoncé. Then be Beyoncé.” It quickly became clear that BuzzFeed’s team not only creates an online environment that the audience can identify and connect with – but also goes out of its way to make sure that their employees feels that way, too.

by Morgan Garces

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