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BEST OF THE WEB: Snowden, the business of Buzzfeed and the first smile

8:41AM | Friday, 15 August

If there’s one thing you take the time to read this week, let this be it. At 7500 words it’s nearly the length of a novella, but Wired’s interview with Edward Snowden is a visually beautiful and detailed account about one of the biggest stories of our time.   The in-depth interview was written after James Bamford spent three solid days over several weeks with the 31-year-old American in Moscow.   The meeting, which took months to set up, and journey’s across several countries, arose from Banford’s one burning question: “What drove Snowden to leak hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents, revelations that have laid bare the vast scope of the government’s domestic surveillance programs?”   While the tone of the piece is a touch star-struck, the story of Snowden’s work for CIA and NSA, and his disillusion there, is as compelling as any fictionalised Hollywood thriller.   We learn that there may in fact be a second document leaker and the details of a government program allegedly used to prevent a foreign cyberattack. According to Snowden, the software, called “MonsterMind”, scans traffic patterns to spot the signs of an incoming attack. After identifying potential digital assaults, MonsterMind blocks or kills them.   The business of Buzzfeed   BuzzFeed is worth at least its latest $850 million valuation, and probably much more, writes Felix Salmon. While others covered the media of the story of the week with a snarky undertone, Salmon clearly identifies the game Buzzfeed is on and why we need to take notice.   Buzzfeed is a media company, but it’s not a content company per se; its core competence is the technology of marketing.   Overhyping content to drive clicks to sell to advertisers is not Buzzfeed’s game (unlike Upworthy and Business Insider), points out Salmon.   BuzzFeed proves with its content that it knows how to reach huge, young, mobile audiences. Then “it can then sell that secret sauce to advertisers, and help them reach the same audience, using the same tools.” That’s a completely new game.   “The big message is that it wants, in founder Jonah Peretti’s words, to be “the number one digital media brand”. That means beefing up the current editorial product; investing massively in video; and an aggressive international expansion, into a number of brand-new languages and cultures,” says Salmon.   The first smile   A timely piece on why laughter, smiles and tears look so similar? Turns out because they all evolved from a single root.   “Long before written symbols, even before spoken language, our ancestors communicated by gesture. Even now, a lot of what we communicate to each other is non-verbal, partly hidden beneath the surface of awareness. We smile, laugh, cry, cringe, stand tall, shrug,” Micahel Graziano writes.   It certainly makes you wonder, if we should ever take a smile at face value.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Seven ways to make business blogging deliver results

7:20AM | Thursday, 10 July

Business blogging is now firmly wedged in the consciousness of Australia. Organisations of all sizes are increasingly heading online to share their thoughts about everything from product development to industry commentary and expert advice. While this enthusiasm is admirable, simply writing content and hoping people will come to your site isn’t enough anymore, especially if you’re starting from scratch.   To really get the most out of your brand's blog, it’s essential to have a degree of technical know-how, or you’ll end up wasting a huge amount of time, effort and money. This is an issue we’re going to be discussing a lot at Social Media Week Sydney in September, and here’s our guide to maximising the potential of your brand blog.   1. Think carefully about how you build your blog   There’s a multitude of platforms available to build a blog in, and each web developer will have their preference. Getting this right is important. From a search engine optimisation (SEO) perspective WordPress is the best option. It’s extremely cost-effective, and having run blogs across many platforms, WordPress just seems to perform better and is extremely easy to use.   2. Think about Plug-ins   One of WordPress’ great advantages is that its software is open source. That means there’s huge amount of free plug-ins available that can enhance the performance of your blog and tailor it to your requirements. All these can be searched for and uploaded via the WordPress ‘plugins’ tab on the left of the back-end dashboard. Essentials include Yoast, a simple-to-use SEO tool to maximise the visibility of your posts, and Google XML Sitemaps, a tool that generates a special XML sitemap which will help search engines better index your blog. Both these tools result in a more visible blog, which can only be a good thing.   3. Properly research your content   As dumb as it sounds, planning and researching what content you write about is an essential part of running a successful blog. Q&A app, Quora is a good starting point, allowing you to track the most popular questions around a particular topic. Once you know what people are asking, then you can answer it in your blog post. And if you’re one of the lucky people to be on Facebook Graph Search, you can see what your brand community is into. Just go to Graph Search and type: Pages liked by people who like ________ (inserting your page name). This will give you a list of pages your fans like and follow, which you can then use as a basis to keep on top of the topics and issues your fans care about – and craft your content around this.   4. Properly optimise your content for search   Once you’ve decided what you’re going to write about, then make sure your blog post is properly optimised. We’ve already mentioned Yoast, but you also need to tag each post with the relevant key words, and come up with a killer headline. This should both draw people in (think BuzzFeed), but also be optimised for search. A quick and easy way to do this is through Soovle – simply start typing your proposed headline and see what people are searching for around this. Also get your head around Google’s keyword planner, which allows you to identify the most popular key words used around a particular topic. Once you’ve found them, make sure you include them in your headline and first paragraph.   5. Embrace ‘hub and spoke’   One of the key ways to create an audience for your blog is by channelling readers from your existing social media channels. This approach is known as ‘hub and spoke’ where each time you make a blog post, you also post about it on your social media channels. If you’ve not got any social media channels, then get some, quick! Start with Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and you’ve got the lion’s share of audience.   6. Get your head around metrics   Whatever blog platform you use, you should have Google Analytics set up for it, as well as on your company website. Your in-house tech expert will know how to do this. Key metrics in analytics include bounce rate – this is the percentage of people visiting your blog then ‘bouncing’ straight off it. A lower bounce rate indicates a more engaged readership. Analytics also gives you an idea of what blog content is most appealing, allowing you to refine it accordingly. The emphasis should always be on using the data to constantly refine your creative approach when it comes to blogging.   7. Think about what success looks like   Finally, think honestly about what success looks like. Forget about your blog driving sales (for now). That’s a long way off. Is it about building an engaged, loyal readership? Is it about driving traffic to your website? Or is it about establishing a thought-leadership position for your company? Whatever it is, stay focused on achieving it, and set challenging but not impossible metrics.   This post was written by Will Ockenden, a UK and Sydney-based social media consultant, and executive member of Social Media Week Sydney.

Seed funding available for media start-ups from Walkley Foundation

1:05PM | Monday, 20 January

The Walkley Foundation for Excellence in Journalism, a leading media industry body, is offering $40,000 in seed capital for up to six media start-ups seeking to innovate with how journalism is created and distributed.   Founders with projects exploring new ways to create and distribute journalism are welcome to apply.   This is the first year the initiative has been run. Walkley Advisory Board member James Kirby told StartupSmart they had kept the criteria flexible this year so as not to rule out any really new ideas.   “We haven’t made it in anyway prescriptive,” Kirby says. “We want to back any business approach to producing journalism, or even just distributing it, as a key part of innovative process in journalism is how you run it through the system is important. Distribution channels are changing rapidly and social media is the new route towards the public.”   Kirby adds recent activity in the broader start-up investment community was good news for new thinking in media.   “In recent times the venture capital and private equity side of Australia has come alive. I expect it’s enlivening finance in all areas, and should hopefully enliven finance for new media ideas,” Kirby says, adding the success of new companies such as BuzzFeed must be alluring to investors.   Kirby says while it’s not the biggest pool of seed capital, they’re seeking ideas that need a bit of capital and a platform to start developing.   “We want to enable some new ventures to get off the ground, especially those that may be too early or too experimental for conventional financers to consider at this point.   Applications close January 29.

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