SXSW: BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti Outlines "Huge Advantage" of Posting Directly to Social Media

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Jonah Peretti

The CEO of the social-driven media company took the stage for a keynote speech at SXSW in Austin to talk about #TheDress, President Obama and more.

When BuzzFeed Motion Pictures released its video with President Barack Obama, it chose to post the clip to Facebook instead of the BuzzFeed website. The video, which shows the president posing with a selfie stick, has now received more than 50 million views. 

It might seem counterintuitive that BuzzFeed is driving traffic to a social network instead of its owned and operated website but the social-driven media company is starting to explore more off-platform content, said CEO Jonah Peretti during a keynote speech at South by Southwest in Austin. 

"For us, it increasingly doesn't matter where our content lives," he said. "That can actually be a huge advantage." 

From its roots in 2006 as a place to go for listicles and cute animal GIFs, BuzzFeed has grown into a 900-person company with video division BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, culture site BuzzFeed Life and news site BuzzFeed News. Today BuzzFeed says it has more than 200 million unique visitors a month and its videos generate more than 1 billion views a month. 

As the company has grown, Peretti hasn't shied away from the lighthearted nature of some of its content. "When you see cute animals, you both laugh and think they're cute," he said. "When you share that with a friend, you share that emotion with your friend, and that results in a connection. … The emotion in the content really matters more than the information in the content." 

BuzzFeed, a site known for deriving most of its traffic from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, is putting more emphasis on engagement metrics than clicks and page views, Peretti said to a packed theater at the Austin Convention Center. He cited a BuzzFeed video about things all couples fight about. The video, posted to Facebook, caused many people to tag their significant others in the comments section. 

Peretti said that in January BuzzFeed received 420 million views from referrals from Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, with the majority coming from Facebook. He cited three examples of ways in which BuzzFeed is leveraging other platforms. The first was coverage of #TheDress, that white-and-gold or blue-and-black (depending on who you ask) frock that took over the Internet in February. BuzzFeed was the first editorial site to pick up the story, which derived from a Tumblr post, and generated 40 posts about it that collectively garnered 52 million views. Peretti also talked about the app Cute or Not, which he described as "Tinder for cats and dogs." The BuzzFeed-developed app was downloaded 300,000 times in a little over a week thanks to the promotion that BuzzFeed was able to provide across all its channels. The third example was the Obama video. 

Although BuzzFeed has begun to explore opportunities to create long-form content through a partnership with producer Michael Shamberg, the company hasn't made a push into TV in the same way as competitors such as Vice Media and Vox Media. Peretti says the company has been approached to make TV shows or create a cable channel, but he has resisted. "You provide content and you get money back but you don't get much data," he said, adding. "You don't actually have any relationship with your audience and you can't actually learn and get better over time."

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