SXSW Keynote: Jonah Peretti

UNTJ4460- PR Communication

South by Southwest is an event that I hope to go to one day. Hearing from professionals that attended, seeing the recaps of some of the sessions and watching some of the keynotes let me know that as a communications professional there is so much to learn.

One of the Keynotes that I watched was Lessons from Buzzfeed by Jonah Peretti, CEO and co-founder of the media company.


Buzzfeed is known for their posts about cute cats, but since its founding it has grown to four divisions: Classic (lists, quizzes and cute animals), Motion Pictures (original videos made in Buzzfeed’s new L.A. studio), Life (DIY, lifestyle, food and fashion posts) and News.

A post about cute animals does not have any intrinsic value, in terms of the reader getting important information from the post. Peretti says that the emotion that a post brings about can be more important than any information in the post. With social media analytics, when people share a post, Buzzfeed and see what words they used to describe the article. This enables them to see why people are sharing the content and Buzzfeed can use this information to improve future posts.

During the Sandy Hook shooting, people were coming to Buzzfeed to find light-hearted articles, so they created a new one that got millions of shares. People share content that they connect with, and when they share content with their friends and family, they are able to have shared experiences with their friends and family who are also reading the post- so no matter where you are, you can have a virtually have a shared experience with someone. Knowing the number of shares is a more meaningful metric to have (for Buzzfeed) than knowing the number of clicks and views.

Real-world action is another thing that Buzzfeed finds meaningful. Buzzfeed Life making a food challenge or a workout plan that gets shares lot is good. But when people share their posts of them creating the meals from the food challenge or doing the workouts, people proactively comprehend your content.

Other examples of posts causing real world action is the Buzzfeed article about Uber’s “God view” which caused Uber to create a privacy policy and a Senate inquiry and the Turkish government preventing ISIS smuggling oil based on Buzzfeed reporting.

In order to have a bigger impact on society, Buzzfeed is creating branded content, which allows them to abandon the traditional banner-ad based revenue model that tradition online media companies use. They are also increasing their international presence with offices across the globe. Peretti says because we live in a global society information travels so quickly, so Buzzfeed makes posts in different languages and adapts posts to resonate with a specific culture.

Buzzfeed’s goal is to “be indifferent to how they find content” which is why sharing platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, are important to Buzzfeed’s vertical integration model. By not forcing readers to see Buzzfeed content on their website, this allows Buzzfeed to reach a much larger audience.

As a P.R. professional, I think that Buzzfeed’s model shows that brands have to learn to work with non-traditional forms of distributing information in order to reach their audiences. It is also important to collect data and have a way to get feedback from your audiences. These are some of the things can help your company learn from mistakes and successes and communicate your message in the most productive way possible.


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