At the White House correspondents’ dinner, President Obama said, “I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college after 2 a.m.”
Indeed, while the website founded by MIT grad and Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti is 7-years old, until recent months, BuzzFeed might have been something only college students were reading at 2 a.m., searching for LOL cats and photo bombs that they could share on Facebook.
But all that is changing and it feels as if suddenly, BuzzFeed has all the media buzz.
- Propelled by high-profile news events such as the Newtown shooting and Boston Marathon bombings, the site seemed to intuit exactly what readers wanted during and after the crisis and its content was even more viral than usual. In January, the site had about 30 million unique visitors. In April, that number had spiked to 65 million uniques. The New York Times’ website has nearly 29 million monthly uniques.
- BuzzFeed has made big-name hires from well-respected news outlets. Last year, they hired former Politico Editor Ben Smith, which resulted in noteworthy presidential campaign scoops. More recently, they wooed Lisa Tozzi from the New York Times to be its news director.
- It is launching a business channel, adding the topic to its roster of existing news tabs (politics, tech, sports, ideas and longform). BuzzFeed tapped Peter Lauria from Reuters to run the business channel, and he is building out the empire with hires, including Sapna Maheshwari, who left Bloomberg to cover the retail industry; the Financial Times Group's Mariah Summers, who will be covering Wall Street; and the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Lynley, who will cover the tech industry. Lauria, who had previously worked at the New York Post, is expected to bring his tabloid training to the table. “Everything you see on the BuzzFeed vertical, we want it to be exclusive or funny,” Lauria told the Wall Street Journal.
- BuzzFeed just launched a “Community”section where you can—be careful, now—post links and other content, with readers being able to vote up or down or label that content with buttons such as “WTF” or “Fail.” Keep in mind, the site has four rules for how to create viral content, which is the only kind it cares about: 1. Have a heart (think Newtown). 2. Capture the moment. They did this like no other with the Boston Marathon bombings. 3. Cute animals rock. 4. Nostalgia sells. Who doesn’t love vintage photos?
- Beyond those new offerings, BuzzFeed just launched a U.K. version. There, you can read 43 Things British People Know to Be Real. And it is building up an L.A.-based staff (overall, the site has more than 200 employees, about 120 of whom are writing and editing).
- Venture capitalists have invested $46 million in BuzzFeed, and not, as New York Magazine put it, because they adore kittens. To be sure, traditional news outlets do not have this kind of money coming to them
- The site is getting more aggressive with its “native advertising” business model. Instead of banner ads, BuzzFeed works with companies such as GE or Pillsbury to create content ideal for sharing, including “10 Things You Never Knew You Could Do With a Crescent Roll.” This is similar to what The Atlantic has done with its sponsored content program. But everything that appears on BuzzFeed has a distinct flavor, and BuzzFeed is launching a training program for agencies (that spend more than $100,000) to school them in the art of creating the right kind of content for the site.