The internet revolution

BuzzFeed UK editor Luke Lewis speaks to about launching in the UK, British humour and what makes the site so successful

Luke Lewis Cut Out for online

How did you get involved in BuzzFeed?

BuzzFeed launched in the UK in March 2013. It had been established in the US and actually goes back all the way to 2006. They really started ramping it up, and it started becoming more of a big deal really in 2011/12. So that’s when I became a huge fan of what they were doing so I contacted them and kind of figured that they might want to launch in the UK. So I said if you do, if you’re thinking about it, then you should consider me. And actually I was kind of right in that position because they were thinking about launching, they just hadn’t really got round to it yet. So yeah, that happened in early 2013.

What was it like when you first started?

Initially, it was very much kind of experimental, there was only three of us, we were sharing an office which was another company’s, you know, it was quite low key. The audience was there, and since then we’ve been building it up so the UK editorial team is about 30 people now. In terms of consumers, now we have 15 million unique users in the UK and globally 150 million per month.

What makes BuzzFeed UK different from BuzzFeed US?

The main thing that distinguishes BuzzFeed in the UK from in the US is our focus on humour. So if you look at all the most viral, most widely shared articles that we’ve ever done in the UK, they’re mostly funny. That’s not really true in the US; humour is a pretty big part of what they do, but it’s not like the number one priority.

How have you adapted content for a UK audience?

Around about the time that we launched, things that were doing very well in the US was cute animal stuff, chill, uplift articles were very popular—a really huge article around that time was ‘photos that will restore your faith in humanity’. That kind of thing was really popular in the US and we kind of experimented with that in the UK, but it didn’t work that well. But when we focused more specifically on humour, self-deprecating humour and regional identity is another one – those things worked incredibly well so we really focused on those.

What do you think makes people enjoy reading things like ‘ten reasons why you’re from the north’?

There is a slight element of mockery invovled, especially self-mockery, that’s an important thing. When we’re writing about a certain niche, or a certain regional identity, you want people who are part of that identity to share it themselves, so if it’s really nasty, sort of slagging off Geordies for example, then they wouldn’t share it, but if it’s sort of gently mocking in a way that they can agree with, then it works. Because you know that’s just the great British thing. Self-depreciating humour is a really big part of our identity.

What makes regional identity so important?

The reason that ide­ntity is really powerful I think is that British media traditionally has kind of ignored the regions beyond London. And so we were really keen to not do that on BuzzFeed. In fact we want to embrace that more actually. We’re gonna sort of ramp up the amount of regional stuff that we’re doing.

How do the British public respond to articles about cute cats and Kim Kardashian?

Humour is extremely important to us, then there’s also the whole news side of BuzzFeed and celebrity stuff; it’s always popular but it tends not to be shared that well. Those kind of things, Kim Kardashian, there’s a lot of entertainment value. They do quite well from the homepage and people do like to read it, but then people won’t necessarily share it. It’s part of the mix, but not necessarily our main focus.

How popular is sport on BuzzFeed?

It’s the same with sport as with celebrity stuff; we kind of dipped our toe in the water with sport, but it’s an area that is very, very well served in the British media, by the newspapers and we’ve not quite found a route into that. Maybe in the future, but at the moment, sport is now something we’re really focused on.

Is it BuzzFeed’s unique, easy to read format that makes it so successful?

Yes, absolutely. We’re thinking about impact and accessibility. For a couple of hundred years, the format of a news story has not really changed very much. It’s about 500 words of copy, with one picture at the top. Especially news online, there’s not been much kind of innovation; they’re really just taken from newspapers. They’re just repurposed, with one picture and 500 words of copy and often it’s just rewritten from the wire.

What makes BuzzFeed different?

We do like to think about how we like to present news stories and getting away from that classic structure of a newspaper which is often like an inverted pyramid. Newspaper journalists will try to cram as many details as they can into the first few sentences and then the story gets less and less relevant.

How do you achieve this?

We kind of flip it on its head and we make it more conversational, a bit more chronological. News journalists will often just start at the beginning – this is the person, this is his name, this is how old he is. And then you kind of start telling it like a story, as if you were in conversation with a friend. So I think that’s what makes our news stories a little bit less artificial and a little bit more conversational, which I think is why they work well on Facebook.

Is Facebook the most popular sharing platform?

It definitely is yeah, but that just reflects the fact that it’s the biggest social media platform by far. The second biggest one is Pinterest and the third is Twitter. To be honest, Twitter is slightly bigger in the UK but globally Pinterest drives significantly more interest than Twitter because it’s huge in the US.

How can students get themselves noticed on the internet?

You can kind of make the mistake of trying to be on every platform. I’m not personally on Pinterest; it drives a lot on interest on BuzzFeed but I’m not sure it’s a great way of selling yourself. Facebook is kind of underrated as a way of promoting yourself. I’ve always had a public facebook profile and posted lots of links there, and have now built up a bit of a following. I think sometimes people neglect Facebook and focus on Twitter.

Why is the more light-hearted content so popular on BuzzFeed?

It just reflects the reality of how people consume content nowadays. I think the organising principal of the web now is the kind of activity stream, especially the Facebook newsfeed. If you look at your newsfeed right now, I’m sure there’s news stories and serious stuff about what’s going on in the world, but there’s also stuff about your friends and family, throwaway entertaining stuff as well. And I think that’s just how people live their lives. So it makes sense that BuzzFeed should reflect that. So you’ve got the serious and the light-hearted, entertaining co-exisiting very closely and I think that’s just a natural reflection of life really.

What do you think about The University of York having a BuzzFeed account?

I think that’s great. It’s great writing about universities because all it takes is for one person to put it on Facebook and people in their year share it, then it starts to spread to people that once went to that university and it ends up as being tens of thousands of people and that’s brilliant, that’s what BuzzFeed is all about really.

What is the best thing you’ve seen on BuzzFeed today?

One of our writers, Robin Edds, did this great thing, which is what Game of Thrones would look like if it was set in Britain. He kind of mocked up the different houses of Game of Thrones and made them look like English counties. I just thought it was nicely done.

And your least favourite?

Nothing springs to mind really.

One comment

  1. BuzzFeed is BuzzFeed not Buzzfeed.

    Also, how hard is it to write a prose feature? Quite, it seems, because no one at Nouse seems to be able to do it. Q&A interviews are lazy journalism, what a wasted opportunity.

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