BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti: ‘I wrote a funny email and somehow I’m here’ | M&M Global

BuzzFeed’s Jonah Peretti: ‘I wrote a funny email and somehow I’m here’

BuzzFeed founder and chief executive Jonah Peretti addressed a packed room at Mindshare’s Huddle event in London, talking cats, Snapchat and the future of journalism


Peretti opened the session by explaining to host, broadcaster and presenter Rick Edwards, that he had never planned to start a company.

The idea came from a viral email that he sent to Nike when he tried to buy custom trainers with the word ‘Sweatshop’ emblazoned under the logo. “I wrote a funny email and somehow I’m here,” Peretti said.

However, the popularity of the email gave Peretti an idea, which led him to connect with other comedy email creators, to create a “bored at work network”.

“There’s no executive greenlighting it,” he said, going on to say it was “easier earlier on” to get noticed.

“Sometimes people think too much about content and don’t think about network,” he said, mentioning he is currently very interested in Facebook Video.

More cats?

When asked how BuzzFeed could grow, Peretti joked, “Firstly, more cats.”

However, he conceded that eventually the publisher ran out of cat-related content, which led it to move into areas like investigative journalism, lifestyle content, DIY and food, as well as video, made in a studio in Los Angeles and micro studios elsewhere.

“We look a lot at the relationship with the audience and try to make things people want,” he said.

Peretti is looking at the UK and Brazil markets with interest, and feels that learning and building from different parts of the business and connecting them together is key.

As an example, he mentioned a popular post concerning the broken door in a German University which was translated to English by an editor, going on to receive over one million views in the UK.

“Ten years ago, it would have just been a funny story at the university, five years ago it would have just been on a blog – increasingly forms of global culture can have a much bigger impact than ever before,” he said.

Turn all the dials to 11

Regarding content, he said BuzzFeed turns “all the dials to 11”.

“We’re not going to run out of space on the internet – different people will know us for different things but we don’t need to be limited by the artificial constraint of space or time.”

With regards to branded content, he stressed the importance of church and state.

“In the beginning, we were just experimenting and messing around. When a brand wanted to do something with us, I would come in and say ‘does anyone want to work on a brand campaign?'”

However, over the past five years, much has changed with regards to editorial, with the hiring of a trained team of journalists. “We don’t want a situation where someone is creating a campaign for Pepsi and also reporting on Pepsi at the same time,” he added.

With regards to metrics, Peretti thinks the most important measure to him is the impact content has on people’s lives, shown when people follow, for example, a DIY challenge post and posting their results on social media.

”It’s harder to measure but that’s the thing that really matters,” he said. “If a post has a million views but then people forget about it the next day, it’s not as good.”

Humble confidence

“Humble confidence” is important at BuzzFeed, as “no one knows in advance what’s going to work”.

“One general principle is we think about how people will use this content,” Peretti said. “Often people are adding our post as a status update, so we look at what role this has in people’s life.”

Peretti compared content topics to a crush, where you don’t really know what to do, but you really like someone so you see where it takes you.

With regards to BuzzFeed’s hiring process, he said that potential employees undertake a series of lists, quizzes and short videos, and often start via a training programme. “We hire some people that are sort of weirdos on the internet and have done interesting stuff on their own that they can build on at BuzzFeed,” he added.

Looking at social media partners, he said that Facebook is great as the companies “see things from a similar perspective” with BuzzFeed creating content that Facebook helps people discover. “We’re like a hotdog in a bun – I don’t know who the hotdog is!”

His current favourite social media platform is Snapchat Discover, of which BuzzFeed is a partner, because it’s very mobile, with full screen videos.

“We can make a Snapchat channel that no one else could make, so that’s what I am obsessed with right now.”

The future Buzz

Looking to the future, Peretti is focussed on the company becoming a global cross platform network, comparing it to self-driving car, which sends information back to a central location allowing all other cars to learn faster.

“If someone has an amazing insight in BuzzFeed in Brazil, it should be shared to everyone in BuzzFeed,” he said. “We need to think about how it all fits together into more than just a sum of its parts.”

Peretti feels that Buzzfeed is part of the trend of content and communication converging.

“Now it turns out you can communicate more by sharing a piece of content made by BuzzFeed that perfectly encapsulate your experience,” he said. “I think that’s a larger trend that we are participating in and shaping.”

Looking at the company’s economic model, Peretti said that BuzzFeed has a much lower cost structure than traditional media. “We can reach much more people at a lower cost – it could be in five years that we’re spending more and making more but right now cost structure is lower,” he added.

Peretti feels that the future of news journalism lies in making the organisations more accountable to the public through an ongoing dialogue.

With regards to ad blocking, he said that third party ad networks don’t care about readers. “There’s a tremendous ad blocking technology called the human neck,” he added. “If an ad really interests you, you might actually look up.”

Peretti added that BuzzFeed wouldn’t consider a paywall as it wouldn’t be compatible with the company’s aim of connecting people. However, he felt that, despite not focussing on profitability, the company’s goal is growth.

He concluded that he thought the secret to great content was a “pure heart”.

Anna Dobbie


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