Middle East all abuzz over Arabic version of news website BuzzFeed

The social news website has already made significant inroads within the region and plans are being considered to create Arabic content.

A television monitor displays BuzzFeed content in the company’s office in New York. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
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Visits to the social news website BuzzFeed could soon take on a more local flavour as the company eyes “real opportunities” in the Middle East according to an executive.

The website recently launched versions in French, Spanish and Portuguese and is considering other languages, including Arabic, as part of its growth strategy.

“There is such exciting energy coming out of Abu Dhabi. I am surprised to hear how popular it is here, being in English,” said Jonathan Perelman, vice-president of agency strategy at BuzzFeed. “I’m excited to go back to New York given how much of a positive buzz and love there has been about BuzzFeed. There is a real, significant opportunity in the region [and] we can create content that would be of more interest to the people of this region.”

The website has 85 million unique visitors to the site a month, of which just over half access it via mobile phones.

Some 70 per cent of BuzzFeed’s traffic comes through via social media, with users clicking on links shared by their friends. Growth in the region has been “surprising and steady”, with users in Saudi Arabia ranking among one of top three countries for its video stories.

Most people associate the website with humorous picture stories and lists from things such as “weird things you never realised other people do” to “the 50 most ‘90s things that have happened”, which includes a picture of a Windows 95 video guide.

“Great content finds itself a new audience, without the need to target them,” said Mr Perelman. “This is what happens based on what the content is. People share content online for two reasons: one is to share content to form a community and the other is to make yourself look good or make you look smart and funny like you understand what is happening today. That goes beyond borders and languages,” said Mr Perelman.

But the site also has a more serious, news-focused side. It employs more than 130 journalists around the world to write about politics and business.

“We do the breaking political content and we have that serious news, what we call the nutritious content and then we have the delicious content, the cat memes and funny lists, which does drive better traffic,” said Mr Perelman.

About two thirds of the traffic heads to the “delicious” side, keen to get a daily fix of humour and “omg”.

“It is starting to even out and move. People are drawn in for the light-hearted fair and then read the more serious stuff,” said Mr Perelman.

The company was started up six years ago and the website was launched two-and-a-half years ago.

“Today you have the notion of the feed and that has changed everything. On Facebook, you have pictures of your niece and nephew, then beneath that someone talking about what’s happening in Syria and beneath that someone talking about a football match. We want to see content that we care about, humans like variety and consume all kinds of content at the same time,” said Mr Perelman.

“Content is about identity and what you’re going to share with friends. Those two ways of thinking about content is the way that we will continue growth,” he added.

Profiting from the content and digital advertising has become a critical issue for all social media networks as traditional banner ads increasingly become ineffective.

Twitter has revealed it is experimenting with personalised and tailored feeds for its users in a bid to diversify its revenue streams.

“Today you’re more likely to summit Mount Everest than click on a banner ad. About 50 per cent of clicks on banner ads on mobile phones are what we call fat finger mistakes. There is a notion of native advertising. People come to BuzzFeed not for ads, but content and if the ad can be as creative as the content, the onus and challenge is on us to make compelling, branded content,” said Mr Perelman.