How BuzzFeed Went From GIF Aggregator To Cultural Arbiter



It’s been a wild ride for the millennial-focused site. Let’s look at how they got here.

BuzzFeed may be a widely known success story today, but how the company became a household name as a leader among digital media companies is quite the story—beginning as a playful experiment for testing the virality of content, namely GIFs, to a media juggernaut with White House press credentials to boot.

At Social Media Week London in September, Toby Daniels, Executive Director of Social Media Week will join Brant McLean, SVP of Brand Strategy for BuzzFeed, Europe will delve into the business of BuzzFeed in a session titled, “The Business of Building a BuzzFeed Brand,” where they will discuss the company’s success, how they’re looking to innovate and ways they’re taking advantage of opportunities to get ahead in the digital media landscape.

We’ll let McLean share his story at the London event, but first: here’s a look at how BuzzFeed became the cultural arbiter it is today.

When was BuzzFeed founded and why?

BuzzFeed was founded in November 2006 by Jonah Peretti and John Johnson. At the time, Peretti was serving as cofounder of the Huffington Post and R&D Director at Eyebeam, a New York-based multimedia center. Building on his ongoing curiosity around how and why people share content, Peretti decided to start a side project with the help of Johnson, his former supervisor, and created the first version of the BuzzFeed website we see today with the launch of BuzzBot, an instant messaging interface to help users share content.

Early growth & breakout point

Fast forwarding to 2014, BuzzFeed received $50 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, a private venture capital firm based in California. A year later, BuzzFeed landed another substantial investment of $200 million from NBCUniversal. In 2016, NBCUniversal invested an additional $200 million in BuzzFeed. With this financial backing, BuzzFeed was able to begin hiring writers and reporters and vastly expand its content offerings to include video, listicles, quizzes and high-quality long-form journalism. The rest is history.

How did they become a leader in viral content?

At SMWLA, content creator and producer for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, Ashly Perez, joined a fireside chat that revealed how BuzzFeed approaches viral content. Her main takeaways for aspiring creators? Don’t over-stress about data or following current trends. Instead, be authentic and lean on your gut instincts around what makes a story move an audience. BuzzFeed calls this urge to share the “social lift,” and they deem it more important than click-through rates because it indicates that the content resonated with the audience in an authentic way.

Where are they now?

BuzzFeed currently employs more than 1,600 employees based in 19 offices across the globe. To date, the site boasts over 200 million unique monthly viewers and continues to dominate our social media feeds, especially within Facebook.

A harbinger of future growth, BuzzFeed and NBCUniversal announced a partnership in early 2017 in which the media giants would join forces to develop joint TV productions. The first of the shows are reported to be documentary-style series of criminal investigations similar to Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.”

What’s next?

Join us at Social Media Week London to find out.

Register here to join us for Social Media Week London, which returns this September 11-15. Join thousands of leaders in media, entertainment, and technology for an incredible week of events and learning!

Cover image via TimeOut New York

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