In a July 2012 email, BuzzFeed's CEO Jonah Peretti summarized his company's winning strategy.
What's fascinating to me, as a teacher of New World filmmakers, is that Jonah Peretti's plan could also serve as a template for indie filmmakers.
How can you make money from ads that ride along with films?
Pay attention to how BuzzFeed is solving that riddle.
If you're not already a fan of BuzzFeed (I am), you should know that BuzzFeed aggregates items that are trending online (or could become something that users want to share if properly presented - often photos, short films or other memes) and compiles them into "scrollable lists so readers don’t have to click a million times and can easily scroll through a post." They also make sharing very easy - by placing social media buttons (in a surprisingly unobtrusive way) throughout.
The revenue model of BuzzFeed?
BuzzFeed is paid by advertisers when advertising is shared. "[W]e invented [our] own ad products and our own post formats, and all these products are brought to life by our own editorial team and our own creative services team. We are what you call a “vertically integrated product” which is rare in web publishing. We take responsibility for the technology, the advertising, and the content and that allows us to make a much better product where everything works together."
In short, BuzzFeed is "a company focused on making content for people to share." The lessons from Jonah Peretti re: BuzzFeed's relationship to the users - and especially for earning revenue from ads - could be very informative for indie filmmakers.
How can you create content that includes advertising that users choose to share?
Obviously, the content must be useful or entertaining (i.e., "spreadable") and the ads must not be too intrusive (i.e., no banners).
But what is the workflow? How do you actually merge content and ads into something that spreads via social media?
BuzzFeed is organized with "a consultative sales team full of ideas for clients, a creative services team making incredibly entertaining and sharable ads, a social discovery team expanding campaigns to Facebook, Twitter, and across the web, and an ad ops team that traffics... campaigns with skill, grace, and dogged determination."
In Jonah Peretti's words, BuzzFeed focuses "on publishing content our readers love so much they think it is worth sharing. It sounds simple but it’s hard to do and it is the metric that aligns our company with our readers. In the long term is good for readers and good for business."
Filmmakers who feel ready to dip into the paid advertising market need to understand - as BuzzFeed does - the social behaviors that support social ad circulation. And, if you can offer great content and align willing advertisers with a proven content (e.g., as measured by meaningful analytics) - the future for indie filmmakers could be very bright.