The loathing and admiring.. but mostly loathing of BuzzFeed.
This post is a collection of thoughts (no we won’t call it a dossier) due to news of cutbacks this past week. It’s not meant to pick on writers, publishers, journalists, or anyone else that is employed by BuzzFeed.
This post is however, meant to be a real. The perceived results of BuzzFeed style tactics and antics. Criticisms and credits both. The dichotomy of BuzzFeed.
2019 Off to a Rough Start.
This past week brought some unfortunate news for many in the media industry. Over 1,000 people laid off across a several organizations. Publications such as Buzzfeed, Gannet, and Verizon Media which is the parent company of HuffPost, AOL, and Yahoo all made cuts.
The modern day media industry is no stranger to job cuts, as layoffs have been common in recent years. Publications claim it’s necessary for survival, I question the business model. Regardless, the way we consume news and information has changed drastically over the years and media outlets are trying to keep up. This new round of layoffs are indicative, that they have yet to discovered a viable business model.
Low Hanging Fruit.
I know it’s all too easy to take shots at BuzzFeed. They are essentially low hanging fruit when discussing what is wrong with media and publishing these days. And no, they are not the only publication that operates with this type of business model.
An easy target or not, they have proven the ability to be profitable over periods of time, in an age where others can’t seem to crack the code. Facebook and Google are referred to as a duopoly, that advertisers are stuck with. While these two platforms hold plenty of power, advertisers have not completely overlooked the power of publishers and blogs. The BuzzFeed model demonstrates there are alternatives.
BuzzFeed News Going Through It.
BuzzFeed News has been making headlines the last week or so. Not for good reasons, but they are making headline nonetheless. Job cuts this week, the Mueller Team disputing their reports that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to congress about the Moscow Tower Project last week.
One can argue, BuzzFeed News will always have difficulty overcoming their own name. They want to be taken seriously as a news organization with quality journalism. They have been recognized for their efforts over the years.
Regardless, they are still called BuzzFeed. They never changed the name of their news division. The entire news staff may have good intentions, and they may have nothing to do with the core site. At the end of the day the name is still there. This issue must have come up for discussion behind closed doors, no?
Synonymous with Useless Content.
I’ll just say it, like I see it. BuzzFeed blew up in popularity over the years, publishing content that has overwhelmingly been useless, throwaway articles. This isn’t a crime and it doesn’t make them bad people. It’s still useless content. As real journalism and news organizations have struggled over the last decade, BuzzFeed has grown.
They’ve done this in part with click bait ridden, listicle based, posts on social media and search engines. They figured out how to work each platform down to it’s core.
The Google algorithm likes new, fresh content. BuzzFeed has been known to post hundreds of articles per day. Facebook likes engagement. They flood the platform with content geared at triggering an emotional response. Again, not a crime, but these strategies naturally lead to a website littered with material that is barely entertaining, let alone useful.
To me, the BuzzFeed name is synonymous with rubbish, low grade content. It’s ingrained in my mind after years of them simply being around. It’s hard to see the word “News” attached and take it seriously.
Give Credit Where it’s Due.
Credit to them, they figured out how to drive traffic to their site. More clicks, favorable metrics, better ad revenue. They used traditional internet advertising models, as well as sponsored posts and product placements. Main objective, get the post to go viral. Quality content is secondary. Who cares if people such as myself, or anyone else, thinks it’s garbage. They got clicks. They win.
This strategy has worked out well for them. They did what others didn’t. Traditional publications either didn’t pick up on it, or figured it might tarnish their names and reputations. BuzzFeed just did what worked. Again, they win.
They even showed the ability to adapt to platform algorithm changes. When others lost significant traffic, BuzzFeed figured out a way. Remember Upworthy? Their clicks suffered as Facebook made changes. The Google update to the Panda algorithm devastated some sites. BuzzFeed stayed SEO friendly. Their ability to pivot and adjust is recognized.
Perception Becomes Reality.
There is nothing egregiously wrong with BuzzFeed’s growth strategies, but they want to be a respected source of news and report on stuff that is important. Again, the news organization may be a separate entity from their core site, but it will not matter to enough readers. It goes back to the name.
It will always be a distraction. It will give ammo to those who oppose what they are reporting. Then, last week happens. Mueller team disputes the Cohen/Trump bombshell.. The “It’s BuzzFeed, what did you expect?” narrative rises to the forefront of debates.
And Here We Are.
As I’m typing this, I have the the BuzzFeed home page open.
At the top – 19 Scenes From Our Fave Sitcoms.
Next post – 27 Cheap Office Supplies That’ll Make You Look Fancier Than You Really Are.
A bit further down – 26 Books that People Say Will Spark Joy.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this type of title is often referred to as a listicle. We love lists. The number in the title is an indication the content is structured in an “easy to consume” manner. Also the title let’s you know what’s in it for you.
I’ll break it down.. The 27 Cheap Office Supplies.. post. The number 27 is a sign this article will be easy to digest. Then the words “cheap” and “look fancier” let’s you know how you can benefit. Make sense?
Sometimes these listicle based titles will go a step further. Remember, part of their advertising strategy are “sponsored posts”. Ever notice a listicle that goes a little something like this..
7 Amazing Places to Eat Sushi When You’re in Dallas. Btw, the Cowboys Quarterback Loves Number 4.
So they draw attention to number 4. It is possible the restaurant listed as number 4, is sponsoring this post. They are playing the odds, knowing that if you’re interested enough to click into the article, you’re highly likely to look for number 4. Even if you don’t read all 7, you’ll check out number 4.
No, not all listicles structured this way are sponsored. This is a simple example for those unfamiliar with how these site make money.
Good marketing, right? I’d say so, but I’d also say this tactic has been used ad nauseam. They have over saturated platform after platform with these lists. The content inside is mostly useless and barely require any significant attention.
How Broken is the Advertising System?
Tie this into ad dollars being spent. Sponsored post may very well have real value, though I do believe there is a breaking point where that value lessens. Are people actually consuming the content? Are they bouncing off the site after a few seconds?
Strike the correct balance of sponsored posts along with the right creative aspect and we have a winner. Advertisers just may have a viable alternative to Facebook and Google. Milk that same concept for all it’s worth and we’re back to square one.
So What is the Lesson?
The internet is a tough place to be seen. Even if you manage to be seen, you may not be seen for long. We have far more information coming at us, at a much faster rate, than we ever have. I don’t believe we have quite figured out how to process all of this info.
Advertisers, marketers, publications, influencers, and everyone in between is competing for attention. Entities such as BuzzFeed are always attempting to do whatever it takes to win that attention. It is very possible that their strategies have backfired in the long run.
Laid off writers for these publications have endured some really bad treatment from random whoevers during this tough time. Twitter, among other platforms, have been a prime place for people to gloat as writers announced they were laid off.
Example being, the whole “learn to code” thing, that took on a life of its own. Over recent years, when an industry such as coal mining or factory work was hit by layoffs, some writers would suggest the affected workers learn to write computer code.
Apparently, this was payback in the minds of some. Layoff announce, comment role in. “Hey I have an idea, you can always learn to code”.
What struck me is as odd, is some of the writers reactions. Trying to reason with and pushing back against those who are getting a complete kick out of this. These writers must know that reacting, will only amplify the behavior, right? Arguing with an account that has a cartoon character for the profile photo with nine tweets, and seven followers is kind of useless, no?
And for the Non Posting Participants of Twitter.
There are plenty of us out there. We read, but we don’t jump into the conversation. I personally feel it allows me to see things from a different perspective. One with less emotion involved.
I did start to wonder about those who lack empathy for those laid off. Not people that we’re trolling with a throwaway account, but real people with a message. Building off the thoughts in the post, along with strong reactions since the announcements, the simple way I can sum things up is to say there is a complete lack of respect for BuzzFeed style publications along with their writers.
I know that a Twitter feed isn’t giving a complete picture, but I have never seen this kind of reaction when a local news papers goes out of business. Fox gets criticized by liberals, and CNN gets brushed off as fake news by conservatives. This week, the strong words, seemed to be coming from all angles.
I’m not going to make any suggestions on what BuzzFeed should do. Kind of useless and I really don’t care. I do however, care about writers, as I myself have to evolve as someone contributing content to the internet.
If you’re looking to be hired by the next big publication or you’re starting your own site from scratch, here are some unsolicited suggestions. More thoughts, in no particular order.
One. What is your purpose? If you get hired by a BuzzFeed style site, you are going to be operating based on their culture and narrative. If clicks to get eyeballs on ads at any cost is their priority, be at peace with that.
Two. Consider being an independent writer calling your own shots. It may mean getting a non writing job to pay the bills while you build your own thing. Whatever that might look like, it might be an avenue worth exploring. Building your own site, with your own name and narrative, may be worth whatever sacrifices need to be made.
Three. Recognize there are people dying for genuine content. While BuzzFeed may capitalize on the bored office worker looking to kill a few minutes, there are unlimited amounts of people that crave something real. Something of quality. People may stay off social media more if they have a place to go.
Four. Write to make the internet a better place. It’s one of our missions here at 89 Prime. Content primarily built for the sake of pleasing a search engine will always be second rate. Sure, a publisher should have an understanding of SEO, but we’re not writing content with “what does Google want” at the forefront of priorities.
Five. If you don’t like a social media site, don’t force yourself to operate on them. The thought of a Facebook page is a complete turn off at this point. Even if I’m passing up on potential eyeballs in the early stages, I believe it will payoff in the long run. I could be wrong, but I do not want to play their game at this point. Been there, done that.
So Let’s Wrap This Up.
The BuzzFeeds, the Huffington Posts, the Business Insiders, the Forbes and so on, are going to do what they do. Love them, loathe them, read them, don’t read them, they are what they are. The simplest, yet most unrealistic way to force them to change is not to click. Just don’t. Otherwise, there is no use berating them and their writers if you click into their content.
It would be a clear sign that more is expected out of a publication. Given the sheer volume of misinformation that runs rampant all over the net, I doubt this will happen on a mass scale, yet each individual can choose what to do. We are looking to contribute to a better internet. Yes one that can be profitable, but done in a more constructive manner. We believe it starts with the content. Things are underway..
Thank you for reading!
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