BuzzFeed’s founding editor – Peggy Wang – is a rockstar (quite literally) on all platforms. Besides being at the helm of the news site we’ve all become addicted to (come on, admit it, you love those roundups), Wang was a fixture in the band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart before starting BuzzFeed with Jonah Peretti. Now, she oversees the brand’s style and DIY sections, and has fast strengthened BuzzFeed’s presence on Pinterest. We needed to chat with Wang on all things of the edible and tech persuasion…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
For breakfast, I would have the Crispy Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Salad from Sqirl and a Bloody Mary with tons of horseradish. For lunch, the Kale Caesar Sweetgreen salad. For dinner, lobster ramen, a paloma, and maybe some taro ice cream. Also, maybe some oysters as a happy hour snack. I would also gladly give all of that up for just an eight-hour-long crawfish boil (I’m from New Orleans).
How has BuzzFeed changed since you started there?
It’s changed and it hasn’t changed. It’s changed very obviously in size and scope. Originally, we just wanted to show you what was cool and good and potentially rising on the internet, and we hadn’t even figured out yet if we were going to use editors or technology to do that. Now we’re a full-fledged media company. I would never have guessed that we would become a contender as a viable news organization or have a longform editor or other kinds of things that come with being a more traditional publisher. At the same time, the spirit of experimentation is still very much alive. As far as our editorial team goes, it’s important to “get” BuzzFeed and “do” BuzzFeed, but it’s just as important to want to innovate yourself. That means coming up with new formats and making up new angles and niches that fill a space no one else is occupying. The editors are closely integrated with the development team who come up with really cool products for us to play with, and it works both ways. We inspire them, and they inspire us. I think that support really facilitates productivity in such a loosely-confined environment. There are definitely growing pains that come with getting so big so fast, like trying to figure out a structure, which I myself sometimes have a hard time adjusting to. But in general, we’re given a ton of autonomy, which is so rare, and I try to never take that for granted.
I think a lot of the notions that outsiders assume about BuzzFeed — that it’s fun, that there’s transparency, that it doesn’t feel top-down — are very much true and have been that way from the beginning. While it’s surreal to see how big this thing has gotten, I have to step back sometimes and really appreciate how much we’ve been able to keep our culture intact.
Do you think it’s changed the way people consume content? How so?
Yeah, I don’t think people consume content linearly anymore. I used to go to specific blogs I liked, scroll down, click on the things I liked. Now I almost only discover the things that my friends are sharing. Most of the people don’t discover our content through BuzzFeed, they’re coming from Pinterest, Facebook, and Gchat. That’s what gives BuzzFeed this omnipresent feeling. But I also think that organically people are consuming content in lots of other ways. They’re not just bored at work, trolling the comment sections of blogs. They’re on at night, sitting on the couch, tapping away at their iPads while a rerun is on TV. What BuzzFeed has been able to do is notice these trends and adapt to them. We’re constantly trying to evolve what we’re doing, from both a product and editorial standpoint.
What is your personal definition of ‘good content?’
I almost always divide good content into humor, empathy, and service. If something doesn’t make me laugh or make me say “yes, thank you, this is so me” or give me some kind of helpful, useful information, I’m just like “NEXT.”
How important are headlines, and what’s the trick to writing a great one?
For one, don’t lie. If you say that something’s life-changing, make sure it’s really unexpected. The content has to follow up or else people feel cheated and they’re not going to share it. However, using hyperbole to comic effect definitely works sometimes. Another important factor is to use the kind of words and phrasing that people use in real life. No one talks like a magazine headline. Also, I think anthropomorphization of both animals and inanimate objects is a skill that BuzzFeed editors do well. You know, this isn’t just a list of insanely amazing margaritas. These margaritas prove God is real. Cue Beyoncé GIF.
How do you personally like to consume food culture online?
I solely use Pinterest now. I used to read blogs, but honestly, since Google Reader died, things haven’t been the same. I usually get to the food blogs via Pinterest, though.
As a past member of a band, how do you like to consume music online?
I spent a day following a bunch of people and record labels I like on SoundCloud, so whenever I’m bored and in dire need of new music, I just go through my feed. SoundCloud is where it’s at for cool new shit, I think. I also love mixes and radio show archives. I grew up listening to college radio, so I like having things curated for me and finding out about new stuff that way. It’s a huge shame that East Village Radio shut down because I would just go through all of their archives and discover a bunch of great old and new music.
How important is social media for musicians now?
It is so, so vital for indie bands and lesser known artists. I’m absolutely certain that a band like ours would not have had the opportunities we were afforded without MySpace and the music blogs. It’s obviously important for the Biebers and Katy Perrys of the world, but for smaller acts, it’s the difference between life and death. We made all of our money from touring, so it was essential that we were able to connect with fans over Facebook and Twitter. And even just the idea that everyone had easy access to our songs and tour dates. I think the internet has been a big equalizer — a lot of bands can achieve a modicum of success without being hand-picked by labels or having a rich dad or whatever. There are so many more ways to make money and get recognition for what you’re doing. In fact, I think the internet makes everyone really hungry to discover things that are cool and new and unknown, as opposed to just blithely sitting back and liking whatever’s on Top 40 at the moment.
Words to write by…
Do it every day, get off the internet, try to exist in a vacuum if you can. I tend to think that being on the internet all day every day and having all this shit flying at you constantly is smoothing over the grooves on our brains and making us boring. Just Instapaper everything and read it all at once in a chunk and get it out of the way.