A Cross-Platform, Global Network

I shared this note with BuzzFeeders this week.

Hello BuzzFeeders,

It is incredible what we’ve built together. In the past 12 months, we’ve changed and grown more than in our entire history as a company. Three years ago we generated 100 million monthly content views almost entirely on our website and app, and mostly in the U.S. Today we are a global, cross-platform, tech-driven network generating FIVE BILLION monthly content views from our site, multiple BuzzFeed apps, and over 30 other platforms including Facebook video, YouTube, and Snapchat. We are a leading source for news and entertainment, with talented reporters, storytellers, businesspeople, engineers, and digital video producers working from offices in New York, Los Angeles, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, Mumbai, Toronto, Mexico City, São Paulo, Madrid, Sydney, and Tokyo, with more to come.

During the explosive growth of the past year, it’s been easy to lose sight of the big picture. We don’t have an existing model to copy, because we are building something that has never existed before and wasn’t even possible before social networks and smartphones became the primary way people consume news and entertainment around the world. We don’t always have a common language, because our team includes talented engineers, business people, reporters, entertainers, designers, and video producers who come from many different disciplines and backgrounds. So I wanted to share some thoughts today about how the pieces fit together into a larger whole and why we have a unique opportunity to build a company with an important role to play in people’s lives and the world.

***

Q: What are we building?
A: A global, cross-platform network for news and entertainment.

Our future depends on our ability to continually learn from a global audience that is engaged on many platforms, and to use that knowledge to make better news and entertainment. As a global company, we are learning from more markets, which gives us an advantage over competitors that are primarily in one country. As a company that makes content in many formats, for many platforms, we can learn more than a competitor that is primarily a website, or just a collection of YouTube channels, or just an app. Likewise, as a company that makes news, entertainment, and lifestyle content, we can learn more about our audience than a company narrowly focused on a single-content vertical.

Increasingly, we are also learning about how content moves between countries and across platforms. We see a post like “26 Problems Only Anxious People Will Understand” with 10 million views on our site evolve into multiple videos with 10 million views across YouTube and Facebook (including this one from Australia) and turned into a comic on Instagram and into our Snapchat Discover channel. We see a news story like artists reacting to the Syrian crisis originally by a reporter in our London office or a first-person essay about taking in Syrian refugees originally written in German from one of our Berlin reporters viewed over 3 million times because of translations to five languages. Or a story that first goes viral in Germany, is translated, and goes viral in the U.S. and globally. Or a video on how to make three-ingredient Nutella brownies that got over 75 million views in five languages. We are establishing a global adaptation desk and a new collaboration process with BFMP to facilitate cross-platform adaptations, and our tech team is building exciting new tools to support this work.

Q: Why are we building it?
A: To have a positive impact on people’s actual lives and the world.

The business logic of creating a global, cross-platform network is pretty clear: This approach lets us do things competitors can’t and helps us spread our investment in original content across more markets, platforms, and formats.

But the reason we are building the network goes way beyond business. Our global scale and cross-platform reach allow us to play a bigger, more intimate role in people’s lives than media companies of the past. We aren’t just broadcasting or publishing; we are learning from an audience of hundreds of millions and working hard to serve them. We don’t want to make content to hang on the wall, like a pretty picture; we strive to make content people can use, that has a function, that makes an impact. Over the past decade, we have been witnessing an exciting evolution in the metrics that matter, from “impressions” to “clicks” to “shares” to “time spent” and now to “impact.” We aren’t building BuzzFeed to get as many impressions or clicks or shares or time spent as we can. We are building BuzzFeed to have a positive impact on people’s actual lives.

Put another way, we measure our success by our scale multiplied by our impact. Being big isn’t enough — and actually is bad if you are having a negative impact. This is why we celebrate when we publish our annual Clean Eating Challenge and Get Fit Challenge, which each get millions of views and result in people actually cooking the food, doing the workout, and posting their results on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. It is why we love investigative reporters exposing injustice in the legal system, government policy gone awry, corporations harming people, and abuses of power — investigations that have led to government action and shifts in policy around the world. It is why we love seeing our LGBT coverage, our work on body image, our reporting on mental health, our video on what it’s like to be intersex be used by the U.N. to train employees on human rights of LGBTI people, promoting new understanding, and becoming part of educational programs. It is why we love when people come to BuzzFeed for entertainment but leave informed about issues and events that matter. And it is even how we measure our entertainment content, which is crafted to be used by people to connect, understand, and laugh with their friends.

Q: Who are we building it for?
A: A global audience, our employees, and our clients.

We are building BuzzFeed to serve our global audience, but it doesn’t stop there. BuzzFeed also exists to serve everyone who works here. We strive to create an environment where people can do meaningful work, learn new things, earn a good living, have an impact on the world, build a rewarding career, collaborate with smart, creative peers, and solve challenging problems. We want BuzzFeed to be a great place for everyone who works here, and we want all of you to have a role in shaping our future. In two weeks, we’ll do a company-wide survey to get your feedback on what is working and what isn’t. I’d also love for you to email me directly with any thoughts on how BuzzFeed can better serve employees. We will thrive as a company if employees can do their best work and have the most rewarding professional experiences during their time here. This is a challenging but worthy goal, and we will work hard to achieve it.

We also have a responsibility to provide value for our clients who provide the revenue that enables us to serve our audience and employees. We help advertisers transform and evolve their advertising and marketing for a world where audiences have shifted to social and mobile media consumption, where disruptive and intrusive advertising is blocked or ignored, and where consumers expect branded content to earn their attention. We provide our clients with a return-on-investment that includes exceptional research, actionable insights, powerful tools like POUND and Optimizer and SoDisco, platforms that allow them to impact culture — helping our clients become more efficient, effective, and creative.

Serving these three constituencies — our audience, employees, and clients — creates a virtuous cycle. When our audience loves our work, advertisers want to partner with us, and we have more revenue to hire and support talented employees, who create even better work for our audience, and the cycle continues. This cycle also increases the value of the company as a whole, increasing the value of stock owned by employees and our investors. It turns out it’s easier to make everyone happy — our audience, employees, clients, and investors — than it is to focus on any constituency in isolation. Everyone wins together; nobody wins alone.

How You Can Contribute

We are transparent about our goals and strategy as a company, because when people understand the larger context, they can operate with more freedom and autonomy. And in the coming year, we can contribute to our larger strategy by continually asking ourselves these two questions:

1. How can we work together to be more global?
2. How can we work together to be more cross-platform?

The answers to these questions will often come in a new focus on coordinating, collaborating, and making the pieces that we’ve built work together more fluidly.

This is a change from a year during which we’ve hired several hundred people, in video, editorial, business, and tech, who have been heads-down focused on the dramatic growth in each of those areas. But I’m sure many of you already have ideas and many of you are already working on new projects between teams. These include increased collaboration between international offices to adapt and share content; joint initiatives like Top Knot between BFMP and edit; tech projects like POUND and Hive that allow us to understand and manage cross-platform media; and marketing initiatives like Swarm that let us simultaneously promote one thing across our site, apps, social accounts, and distributed media.

Over the next 12 months, we won’t hire quite as quickly, as we integrate the many talented new hires who’ve recently joined the team and build models and organizational structures that allow us to collaborate more effectively. We’ll get more sophisticated in our budgeting to measure the “local value” and “network value” of everything we do so we can invest strategically in the areas that will create the most overall benefit in the future. We’ll do our best to avoid disconnected, isolated projects that don’t have potential to contribute to the cross-platform, global network. And we will continue our evolution from a small startup into an enduring, tech-driven, global, cross-platform media company with an important role to play in people’s lives and the world.

We are all super busy with specific projects, and we don’t have lots of extra time, but everyone should have a sense of how their work fits into the big picture and be open to new opportunities to “feed the network” and to collaborate with other groups at BuzzFeed. In the near future, I’ll be meeting with every team at BuzzFeed to discuss how your team in particular can collaborate to become more cross-platform and global. I can’t wait to see what we build together in the coming months!

Finally, I want to say thank you for all for the tremendous work you’ve done to get us this far. I feel honored to work with so many talented people who challenge me and inspire me every day.

THANK YOU!

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