In December, Facebook changed its News Feed algorithm in December to favour more “high quality” news over “memes.”
Looking at a bunch of charts yesterday, we found this change correlated with a sudden and massive drop in traffic traffic to Upworthy and several viral news sites.
The charts also showed that one viral news site continues to grow despite Facebook’s change. That’s Buzzfeed.
What makes Buzzfeed so special?
Is it — as some in the industry will whisper over a drink — because Buzzfeed happens to be a close Facebook partner? It’s true that Buzzfeed’s business model is to make ads for brands on Buzzfeed.com, and then spend some of the money it gets from those advertisers buying traffic to those ads from Facebook.
But then, Zynga was once a big Facebook advertiser, and look what happened to that company.
So maybe it’s because Buzzfeed has invested more in original content than Upworthy and those other viral news sites?
From John Herrman to Peter Lauria, Buzzfeed employs several respected journalists who publish hard news and smart analysis. Buzzfeed also has massive video team making funny, original clips. Maybe, in the eyes of Facebook executives, this makes all Buzzfeed content “high quality” and therefore News Feed-worthy.
In an email, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti said the best way to understand why Faceobok hasn’t crushed Buzzfeed the way it (may have) crushed Upworthy is to “think about the history of television.”
First you had the major networks bundling morning news, soaps, game shows, the evening news, primetime dramas, comedy, and late night TV. All of it is original content and a big investment, even the stuff that isn’t news. Then later you had MTV, Comedy Central, CNN, etc which also are big investments in content, some news, some entertainment. In this case, the cable providers are the distribution and they want TV content companies to make great show so more people will sign up for cable.
Now Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/WhatsApp/etc are the distribution. In an abstract sense, they have the same incentives as the cable providers. They want content companies to invest in better and better content that makes their networks more valuable. Some of that will be news made by journalists. Some will be entertainment made by great storytellers and comics. But it is in their interest and the consumers interest to distribute great original content published by companies that will invest in content in the long term.
In that sense BuzzFeed is very aligned with the interests of all the major social networks: 1) we are in this for the long term, 2) we continually invest in our content to make it better, 3) we do R&D on new formats and areas (lists, quizzes, explainers, mobile, video, breaking news, long form), and 4) we never game platforms with deceptive headlines, we never trick our readers, we put the reader first in all our decisions. The end result is that we are focused on making content that *readers* love and share and traffic growth on social platforms is only a secondary effect.
So the most natural explanation of why we are different than the sites you mention in your article is that we have a totally different model.
And the most natural explanation for how Facebook manages News Feed or how other social networks will manage their platforms, is they will tend to align themselves with media companies that publish great original content their users love and continually invest in making that content better.
This is what happened in cable TV and it feels like a similar dynamic is happening again.
Basically, his argument is that Buzzfeed is the new MTV/ESPN, and Facebook is the new Time Warner/Comcast.
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