A year or two ago, people would heap scorn on the Huffington Post, since although it employs excellent journalists who do valuable reporting, it also practices a brutal click-driven kind of management, in which celebrity news and grabby headlines are used to pull readers in, leaving some vaguely ashamed they read it in spite of themselves. HuffPo may not have invented the sideboob slideshow, but they brought it to such a high level that they eventually created an entire sideboob section on their web site, which is, not surprisingly, the top result you get on Google when you search the term. The section was created as a joke, but also kind of not.
Yet these days, you don't hear many of those complaints about HuffPo anymore. Why? One word: Buzzfeed. One might not have thought that another web site could find gold in the combination of guilty pleasure clickbait and actual journalism that HuffPo pioneered, but Buzzfeed did. Today, if someone is lamenting our short attention spans and the endless search for traffic, Buzzfeed is the site they'll mention. And how did they do it? Lists. Magical, wonderful lists. And Corgis. And Ryan Gosling. And lists about corgis and Ryan Gosling. Sideboob pics are for amateurs; if you want to grab the clicks, try "The 14 Most Insane Wedding Dresses of All Time," or "37 Professional Photoshoppers Who Should Be Fired Immediately," or "26 Things You Never Want to See Under a Microscope." Just try to resist clicking, I dare you.
So is there a way for politicians to get some of this action? The National Republican Congressional Committee, a name virtually synonymous with hip young people retweeting things with extra exclamation points, is betting that there is, according to National Journal:
"BuzzFeed's eating everyone's lunch," said NRCC spokesman Gerrit Lansing. "They're making people want to read and be cognizant of politics in a different way."
The committee spent hours poring over BuzzFeed's site map and layout, studying how readers arrived at its landing pages and bounced from one article to the next. Unsurprisingly, a ton of traffic came from social media -- but a lot of it also seemed to come from the site's sidebar, said Lansing. So the NRCC's redesign includes a list of recent and popular posts.
Other changes include shorter posts, fewer menu items and a heavy helping of what now passes for social currency on the Web: snark.
The new site comes a few months into the beginning of a broader strategy to capture more of the social Web's attention. To that end, the NRCC has begun dropping blog posts with headlines like "13 Animals That Are Really Bummed on Obamacare's Third Birthday." A recent image macro the NRCC posted on Facebook featured a photo of President Obama laughing below a caption mocking voters for believing his claims about health insurance premiums.
With communications director Andrea Bozek overseeing a team of 20 Web writers, the NRCC's already noticed an uptick in traffic and donations. In the last three months, according to Lansing, NRCC.org has been attracting the same amount of traffic as it did toward the end of the 2012 campaign. For every visit, the site makes about $0.10 to $0.25 in contributions.
Twenty web writers? Wow. I won't mention how that compares to the Prospect's staff size. So let's head on over to the NRCC web site and prepare to be amazed. Up top of the site, we've got...an opportunity to co-sign the Ryan budget. Skapow! Are you feeling buzzed?!? Below that there is "8 of Our Favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes," which does show that the brain trust at the RNC figured out the list thing. But it's not exactly jumping out of your computer and grabbing you by the lapels.
On the other hand, the piece about the RNC trying to copy Buzzfeed is currently the top article on the National Journal web site. So somebody knows what they're doing.