In How We Receive Information, BuzzFeed Reigns
Metro, Business, Column

In How We Receive Information, BuzzFeed Reigns

When someone mentions BuzzFeed, top-10 lists, cat memes, huge bubbly images, and similar types of eye-grabbing, fluffy, flashy content probably come to mind.

Any teenager with a laptop is also familiar with the onslaught of flamboyant “LOL”s and “Fail”s and quizzes like “21 Snoozing Koalas You Want To Snuggle With Right Now” that flash across computer screens wherever they look, whether it is the countless hours one spends on Facebook or Twitter.

BuzzFeed is known for completely re-inventing the digital top-10 list, essentially creating an innovative way to present content and cater to our generation’s shorter attention spans.

Since MIT graduate Jonah Peretti launched BuzzFeed in 2006, viewers have spent a total of about 42,972 years on the website, according to The New York Times.

This outrageously high number brings to light a question: what could people possibly be doing on this website for so much time?

One possible answer: last year, BuzzFeed launched its extremely popular “Community” section, where you can post links and other content, with readers being able to vote up or down or label content with buttons like “WTF” or “Fail.”

With the hours and days our generation spends on the site, most likely clicking on one of some 22,500 articles about cats, the website has gained significant attention from advertisers looking to market to the website’s 80 million unique visitors each month.

DigitasLBi, a marketing company with about 700 employees here in Boston, welcomed a new partnership with BuzzFeed this past Tuesday. Bringing BuzzFeed to Boston means that the website will work closely with the marketing company on campaigns and ideas and be able to publish sponsored content that is designed to tailor to younger generations, according to The Boston Business Journal.

By bringing BuzzFeed to the college capital of America, the company will be able to target an audience of about 250,000 college students. Having just raised $50 million from a venture capital firm last month, BuzzFeed is poised to monetize its millions of page views each day.

Perhaps BuzzFeed’s greatest success has been its digital advertising—changing how companies directly market to the younger generation (mainly 18- to 24-year-olds).

What’s different about BuzzFeed is that it is destroying all competition in digital advertising.

Ads placed on the site’s homepage have an average click-through rate (CTR) between 0.5 percent and 2.5 percent—compared to the 0.1 percent average CTR for display ads, according to DoubleClick.

The site has been able to take its content ads and sponsored posts a step further by syndicating them with other publications—creating a network that is raking in millions of dollars in advertising.

Since people spend so much time and money on the site, this raises other questions about our generation as a whole:

Why do we spend so much time on BuzzFeed, clicking on articles with GIFs and list-icles? Why are we shifting away from traditional news sources, like Fox News, The Boston Globe, or even 60-Minutes? How have websites like BuzzFeed changed how students receive information?

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford looked into some of these questions. According to a 2012 study by the University, only one in 10 Internet users was willing to pay for digital news last year. The study found that in the U.S., 30 percent of those subscribing to a news source chose The New York Times, 32 percent selected a local paper, and 16 percent opted for The Wall Street Journal.

Now, I’m not trying to compare news sources like The Times or WSJ to BuzzFeed, a website based on clicks. The fact is, traditional news sources are scrambling to compete in our new digital world. They cannot replace the revenue they are losing as a result to users and advertisers shifting to websites like BuzzFeed.

I have to admit, I myself have squandered time viewing top-10 lists and taking quizzes like “What State Do You Actually Belong In?” (I am proud to say I got Minnesota). But the real issue here is that by supporting the BuzzFeeds, we are taking time and money away from legitimate news sources—eventually changing how our nation will receive information.

Simply put, young people are not traditional newsreaders.

They like BuzzFeed.

Featured Image Courtesy of BuzzFeed

September 17, 2014
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