It looks like Buzzfeed; it quacks like Buzzfeed. But PlayBuzz, the obscure Israeli clickbait factory that recently eclipsed its viral rivals in the all-important measure of Facebook shares, is most definitely its own animal.
The site has been online since early this year, and the company behind it has been around since 2012. But it didn’t land on most people’s radars until this week, when NewsWhip — a social media analytics firm — published its monthly report on the Web sites people share most on Facebook.
No. 1 was the Huffington Post. No. 3 was Buzzfeed.
And in the coveted No. 2 spot, with an enviable 7.6 million shares, was some random site called PlayBuzz — which apparently millions upon millions of people use but nobody actually talks about.
This is, incidentally, all part of PlayBuzz’s shtick. The site traffics in the same kind of frivolous listicles and personality quizzes that put Buzzfeed on the map long before that site had more serious ambitions. (“10 Ways to Know That You Were Friendzoned” and “Which 90’s TV Girl Are You?” led the homepage, as of this morning.) But PlayBuzz pitches itself as a platform, not a publisher. In other words, it provides the technology to build quizzes and listicles, invites anybody to make their own quiz and embed it on their own site for free, and then reaps the rewards in Facebook shares. Behold:
As PlayBuzz itself has insisted, the model’s far more similar to YouTube than it is to Buzzfeed. And as far as social strategies go, it’s pretty brilliant.
There’s very little overhead for PlayBuzz, because unpaid contributors — and pet Web sites, and lumber suppliers, and a network of more than a thousand media organizations, including Martha Stewart and MTV — do all the actual creating for them.
It also doesn’t have to market the quizzes and listicles these contributors produce. Because PlayBuzz encourages other sites to embed its content at will, and then loads those embeds with all kinds of social share buttons, it disperses to a wide and varied audience all on its own. Between June and September, the site’s Facebook shares ballooned from 2 million to more than 7.5 million — all with 26 employees and no marketing budget.
It’s unclear whether PlayBuzz can sustain the momentum, though there’s no indication it’ll go anywhere but up. PlayBuzz’s parent company, PlayCharger Media, is helmed by Shaul Olmert, the well-heeled, NYU-educated son of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. In December, he’ll graduate from the tech incubator his company has called home since 2012, at which point Olmert and co. will presumably need to start thinking about things like how to make money.
You may not have known what PlayBuzz was three days ago — but in three months, you probably will.