BuzzFeed: The Shift from Distribution to Circulation

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green explore the way in which media is shared in Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. The ideas in this book touch on topics that we have explored this semester. When I think of “spreadable media”, I think of videos, pictures, and memes that go viral. How is media shared among people? People often share links with their friends, who either browse the material or also pass on these links. Jenkins, Ford and Green propose, “Its easy to see how this concept of the ‘influencer’ became popular alongside notions of viral marketing: both assume there is some shortcut to building interest around one’s message. In the case of viral marketing, the myth is that something inserted into the content’s ‘DNA’ will infect people and give them no choice but to spread its messages” (81). The ‘spread’ of the media is somewhat like a virus where people pass on what they have seen and it continues quite rapidly.

Social-media-for-public-relations1Once again, Henry Jenkins’ concept of participatory culture is at play here. Sharing links has become a way for people to connect with one another. They write, “Blogging and microblogging platforms emphasize the importance of a regular stream of material, some of which may resonate more than others in ways creators may not always be able to predict” (198). BuzzFeed has become the “buzz” on Facebook with users sharing quizzes, lists and gifs. BuzzFeed is a place that knows its viral ability. They write, “Already, prominent communities are finding themselves increasingly barraged by marketers looking to create a ‘viral phenomenon’ or to generate word of mouth” (79). BuzzFeed has done just that, They don’t need to advertise because people have already started sharing and “buzzing” about the content on the site. The ‘spreadability’ of culture defined by the text, “refers to the potential—both technical and cultural—for audiences to share content for their own purposes, sometimes with the permission of rights holders, sometimes against their wishes” (3). Spreadability is what occurs on Facebook everyday, in Twitter feeds, on Tumblr and all over social media. Some people may see someone’s post, read it and never share the link. It then becomes hard to track and more difficult to “spread”. It ends up being the readers and users of social media that determine what gets circulated and what may not which can possibly be risky in terms of advertising.

Hand_drawn_social_media_icons_by_rafiki270In New York Magazine, there is an article on Buzzfeed, title “Does Buzzfeed Know the Secret?” written by Andrew Rice. This article highlights the “word of mouth” technique for advertising, which Buzzfeed utilizes. Rice writes, “BuzzFeed’s model, known in the industry as ‘native advertising’, has caused some trepidation among traditional ad agencies, which see its potential to cut out their intermediary role” (par 8). Here, in another article, “BuzzFeed Editor Talks ‘Going Viral,’ Complete with Gifs” written by Laura Nichols, the idea of viral and spreadability is present. The act of going viral has to do with the way in which participants online look at and spread the content that they are viewing. BuzzFeed has left their advertising model up to its viewership which has proven to be successful.



Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York UP, 2013. Print.

Images from Creative Commons.

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