Donovan X. Ramsey is a student at Columbia’s School of Journalism and one of ten students providing on the ground coverage of SMWNYC.
Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, took to the stage at Social Media Week NYC recently to discuss online trends and the future of content sharing. With Facebook going public and the relative success of new sites like Pinterest, it’s an important, big question and one that Peretti might be qualified to answer. In a packed auditorium at the Hearst building in Manhattan, he rolled out his vision.
“There’s a big shift happening and we’re at the beginning of it,” he said. “There are still industries to be disrupted. You need to think from the perspective of a user that wants to share something…The real key to a lot this stuff is emotional intelligence.”
Peretti cofounded the Huffington Post, a site that has revolutionized blogging and news online by mixing the two. Now he runs BuzzFeed, a hub for headlines like “Goat Massage” and “40 Things That Make Corgis Happy,” based on a type of emotional intelligence. In his address, Peretti referred to BuzzFeed as a “giant content site for the social world.” He described this world as one identified typically through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter but getting more social by the minute.
The socialization, so to speak, of content online happened in stages, according to Peretti. The first stage was that of portals like Yahoo, which catered to a general audience. They were the sites, with big home pages and categories, through which users had to go for content. The next step was the search stage. Think Ask Jeeves and About.com. Users began finding content by requesting it. The Internet was opening up and users were starting to have an influence on the creation and promotion of content. That led to the social stage.
He said one of the most interesting trends he’s spotted in the social stage is the tide of users who go to BuzzFeed looking for something to share on their Facebook pages. He said it represents a shift from how content was consumed before. It’s a sign that the audience sees themselves less as just that. They’re aware that they’re more than an audience. They’re participants.
Peretti’s big prediction was the streamlining of content online. “Facebook is the best example of content expanding from friend updates,” he said. “As Facebook matures, there’s news now and people are getting comfortable with a social world where everything their friends care about is mixing together.” In preparation for this, BuzzFeed has made changes like the addition of ex-Politico writer, Ben Smith as editor-in-chief. Their first scoop with Smith was Sen. John McCain’s endorsement of Mitt Romney. According to Peretti, BuzzFeed beat CNN by 30 minutes.
His strongest case study seemed to be his own company. BuzzFeed, with its simple headlines and variable content, is mostly directed by the interests of its users and their reactions to content all over the World Wide Web. In fact, the site goes as far as to organize content into categories based on users’ reactions. With one click, you could vote something as a “fail” and with another, browse a lists of “wins.”
During the presentation, Peretti brought up a slide of basset hounds running, their droopy folds flapping in the wind. He said such content is decidedly shareable because of its common appeal. It can go onto your best friend’s Facebook wall or be sent to your grandmother in an email. The key to creating sharable content in the social age is finding material that defines a moment, said Peretti. “Let the user become invested in the story…People are the gatekeepers in the social media world, not Google’s algorithm.”