Variety recently published an article called BuzzFeed’s latest viral craze: Ex-Staffers Bashing the Company on Youtube.
The fact these videos themselves are going viral isn’t ironic at all. First off, they’re trained to create viral content. Add the word “BuzzFeed” to the title of your video and the SEO virtually guarantees tons of views. And lastly, confessional videos are still strangely popular, even though they are the low-hanging fruit of viral content. We’ve been trained to like that kind of stuff since the pre-social media days, when shows like The Real World gave narcissists everywhere a platform to talk about themselves.
It is weirdly fascinating to watch these videos of Millennials or Generation Z’ers discovering that companies don’t cater to their every whim. It shows a lot of naivety on the part of the content creator to assume otherwise. And while it is nice to see them getting wise, I’m skeptical that bashing your former employer might not be the best way to land a new job.
Chris Reinacher is one of many, many people who have made a “Why I left BuzFeeed,” video. Among other reasons, the the fact they own your Intellectual property and the fact you’re not allowed to do projects outside of BuzzFeed are big sticking points along with a “growing integration of ads.”
The last one makes me laugh. It’s free content; how do you think the company would make money otherwise? They have a business model and that business model is “sell ads on top of mediocre content.” If you think you’re going to have an impact on the creative, you are wrong. They’re not going to mess with that formula even if it isn't proving to be as much of a cash grab as it once was.
Watch enough of these videos and you realize ex-employers all have the same complaints about BuzzfFed. And what’s more, none of it is unique. Job dissatisfaction that stems from working long hours for low pay? Being forced to wear many hats because the employer doesn’t want to hire specialists? Lack of creative control? Not being allowed to work on side projects? Company owns your IP? Sounds like the ad industry as much as any other content creation company.
And while there are certainly enough copycat ads out there (which are in our Badland category) at least the Ad industry doesn’t rip off their content the way Buzzfeed does.
The Variety article highlights the BuzzFeed’s policy of not allowing its content creators to work on non-BuzzFeed projects as being a big sticking point.
“The friction between BuzzFeed and its video employees has come to a head in the past year: The company has fired employees for working on non-BuzzFeed projects. Last June, writer-producer-actor Jenny Lorenzo and Brittany Ashley (who worked on BuzzFeed’s popular series “You Do You” and wrote the script for the first season) were let go for allegedly violating their exclusive contracts with BuzzFeed after they appeared in a web series produced by America Ferrara. Sources familiar with BuzzFeed say it’s re-evaluating the terms of how it works with creators in such situations in the future.”
BuzzFeed may be re-evaluating terms, but as long as their are young suckers coming through the door who believe it’s a privilege to work for a content sweat-shop, they have no impetus to change.
Even a BuzzFeed rep’s comments to Variety spell that out. “Asked to comment on the trend of ex-employees airing their grievances, a BuzzFeed rep told Variety, ‘We’re happy to have played a role in launching these people’s careers, and we wish them the best.’”
So BuzzFeed takes your IP and takes credit for your future success, too. Lovely. While it’s great to see people waking up, and many an article has been written on the proper way to attract millennials by allowing them room to work on their side hustle or whatever, it’s not only one generation whose free time should be valued.
Parents who want to spend time with their kids, couples who want to spend time with each other, people of any age who want to have the satisfaction of working on a personal project, or not working another freaking weekend—that kind of well being belongs to all age groups.
The shortsightedness of a sweatshop mentality is that they focus on attracting the youngest and cheapest talent at a detriment to the output. They figure it doesn’t matter because people are lined up to get in. As we’re seeing with BuzzFeed, (and sweat shop ad agencies) that is quickly changing.
But it’s also changing across all age groups and experience levels. People are leaving advertising in droves. And while you’re probably not going to see a “Why I left Sweatshop Agency” video any time soon, the ex-employees are certainly making sure to tell other prospective employees to think twice about signing up. It is certainly true anyone can be replaced. But talent can’t be replicated. That might not matter when you’re making low-grade content like a video about trying a Twinkie for the first time, but when you are making content that helps sell real product, it’s a different story all together.