The man the New York Times once called a “viral marketing hotdog” tonight referred to Richard Dawkins’ definition of a meme to describe what makes content spread on the Internet.
Jonah Peretti, the founder and CEO of online news site Buzzfeed, told Sarah Lacy at PandoMonthly in New York City tonight that a viral idea often has to be simple. Explaining the common thread between his famous Nike “sweatshop” shoes email and the Rejection Line, Peretti said: “One similarity is that you can explain it in one sentence and get a little bit of a laugh in one sentence.”
Evolutionary biologist Dawkins defines memes as self-replicating units of transmission – an idea Peretti played off. “In order for an idea to replicate it has to be simple enough for a friend to talk about it at a party,” he said. “It hit something deeply personal that ties in with people’s sense of identity.”
But he also said the memes he helped spread – which also include the faux-personal website BlackPeopleLoveUs.com – also touched people on a personal level. “There was a reason to talk about it. They were about relationships, they were about identity… It makes you think of another person [you] want to share it [with].”
Peretti, who went on to co-found the Huffington Post, said that his efforts were made easier at the time because few people were tying to create viral content. “The network just hadn’t been lit up yet.”
Before he joined the Huffington Post, he wasn’t concerned with making money from his viral content, despite the media’s repeated questioning on the subject.
“We used to get made fun of by the press mostly because we weren’t trying to make money,” he recalled. But he was working for the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center at the time. Instead, he was driven by his intellectual curiosity.
“I didn’t need money because I could live modestly and do stuff I loved, so I didn’t really think about doing it as a business.”