Today, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith spoke to fellows, students, and a few curious onlookers at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center (Storify recap). Listen to the full audio above; below are my top five takeaways from the discussion:
- Headlines definitely matter — and if you’re writing headlines for catchy listicles, be sure to lead with the number. Headlines at BuzzFeed are a collaborative effort among writers and editors, and employ rigorous A/B testing alongside a custom analytics platform and Google Analytics to measure performance. Also, headlines sure look a lot like tweets these days.
- With the right headlines, clicks can be easy to elicit. For optimal social growth, publishers must entice users to share their content. With 75% of traffic referrers from social media, and the bulk of that from Facebook, BuzzFeed has succeeded in creating content compelling enough to drive social sharing.
- BuzzFeed’s partnership with duolingo helps address the challenge of publishing in multiple languages. Duolingo, which recently secured another $20M in series C, gives BuzzFeed a smart algorithm + human equation to scale and boost international growth.
- The viral web can be put to work for serious news as well as cat memes. Smith wrote a compelling piece to this effect in Foreign Policy back in April 2013. Today, Smith cited a recent interview with Shimon Peres and a gimlet-eyed profile of Donald Trump as evidence of serious journalism residing comfortably in the same viral wrapper as lighter fare.
- 99% of success is hiring and retaining amazing people. One example: video innovator and rockstar Ze Frank who built and staffed the BuzzFeed studio in Los Angeles. Great reporters are always hard to find, and competition for the best is getting tougher as both traditional and newly-monetized internet media compete for top talent.