Is BuzzFeed a normal media?

Article  by  Vincent MANILEVE  •  Published 26.11.2014  •  Updated 26.11.2014
Scott Lamb
Known for its LOLcats, BuzzFeed now aims at becoming a media like any others. Interview of Scott Lamb, VP of BuzzFeed International.

Buzzfeed’s growth, since its foundation in 2007, is impressive, especially with the current global crisis in media. How do you explain its success? What are the specificities of Buzzfeed ?
Scott Lamb: BuzzFeed is a news and entertainment media company for the social age. We've been able to grow quickly by finding our audience wherever they like to consume content – on Facebook, in the stream of Twitter, sharing stories over instant messenger or email or with friends over WhatsApp. We began very experimentally, as a lab focused on viral content: Why do people share certain things and not others? As social media went from being a niche activity to a central part of our digital lives, this question began to have critical resonance for media.
In the US, you are developing BuzzFeed Motion Pictures to make short and long movies, an advertising agency and even a “food lab”. What is the final goal of all these projects? Where is Buzzfeed going?
Scott Lamb: We're building a sustainable, fast-growing business that we hope will be one of the defining media companies of the social age. Instead of the printing press or a broadcast tower, our distribution is through our readers sharing our work; one of the dominant forms of media that people like to share is video. In the same way we offer a wide array of options on our editorial site, we want to have a full spectrum of media in our growing video portfolio.
There is a big difference between Buzzfeed and the other classic media: your audience activity has an influence on the editorial and on journalists. Why is it so important for you to use this data?
Scott Lamb: It's important for any publisher interested in working online to understand where their audience comes from and how it behaves. The key metric for us isn't just traffic: it's sharing.  The key metric for us isn't just traffic: it's sharing There's no stronger signal that you're work has edified, moved or informed someone than the fact they want to share it in a social forum, so we believe looking at data helps our editors and journalists do even better work and have a greater impact.
75 % of your traffic comes from social networks. It’s really different for classic media for now (it’s 4.4 % for Can you explain how Buzzfeed is using social networks?
Scott Lamb: Social networks are our front page. Our readers don't visit home pages primarily, they go into the social stream to find out what's happening in the world, so that's where BuzzFeed stories have to live.
You also said that you are analyzing social media like Whatsapp or Snapchat. How could these applications be used to do journalism nowadays?
Scott Lamb: We're still exploring the ways these new platforms could be used to tell stories. Right now is an exciting time to be a journalist – the number of tools available to journalists to tell stories is growing every day. But it takes time to understand how these new formats could be used to tell or share journalistic stories.
At Les Assises du Journalisme in Metz, you said that the readers were also the publishers. Can you explain why? Should media give their audience what they expect?
Scott Lamb: In the social age, the expected is the last thing the audience wants. They want to be given information that changes their world, or gives them a novel insight. They want to be surprised. Commodity journalism, the same story told the same way by a dozen different newsrooms, that's not going to reach readers anymore. But being able to offer something unique – which has often been the aim of journalism – to bring new information to light, to have an original point of view, that's what gets readers to share.
What do you answer to those who consider native advertising is maybe financially good for newspapers in the short run, but in the long run media who use it loose their credibility?
Scott Lamb: At BuzzFeed, we have a very firm wall between advertising and editorial – in this way, we are fundamentally aligned with the core journalistic principle of keeping journalism away from the business side. Our form of social content advertising was a direct response to what we still see has a large problem in the business model for online media: Display ads. They aren't a great solution for anyone, since readers don't like them and don't click on them, leaving advertisers and publishers alike feeling frustrated. The goal of the ads on BuzzFeed is to prove you can make compelling advertising online.
In their leaked “innovation report”, the New York Times said that they are worried about Buzzfeed’s success. Do you think media like Buzzfeed are supposed to supplant old legacy media like the New York Times?
Scott Lamb: I think we're still only at the beginning of a seismic shift in media from industrial era technology towards digital media. The outcome of this shift is impossible to predict, but one thing that has come out of it is opportunity for new voices – like BuzzFeed or Vice – to quickly grow their audiences. For legacy media to adapt to these changes, they need to take them very seriously, as a fundamental shift. It's easier for new companies to adapt themselves to this shifting landscape, but that certainly doesn't mean that legacy media companies can't as well.
You launched the French version of Buzzfeed last year. Many journalists criticize Buzzfeed France for only publishing “lolcats articles”. Do you plan to develop other types of content like investigative journalism?
Scott Lamb: We're very proud of our lolcats – BuzzFeed's cat content is indisputably great, and much harder  We're very proud of our lolcats  to do well than those journalists might like to imagine.  At the same time, we are planning to expand our offerings in France over the coming months, adding viral news and bringing the great world news and investigative journalism done by our global team to French readers.
Photo : BuzzFeed

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