The Virologist: How a young entrepreneur built an empire by repackaging memes.

Emerson Spartz calls himself an aggregator, but he acts more like a day trader.

Excerpt from this article:

As new-media companies like BuzzFeed and Upworthy become established brands, Spartz hopes to disrupt the disrupters. He employs three dozen people full time, in addition to several freelancers. The company operates thirty sites, which have no unifying aesthetic. Their home pages, which can be chaotic and full of old links, don’t always feature a Spartz logo; traffic is generated almost entirely through Facebook, so brand recognition is relatively unimportant. Most of the company’s innovations concern not the content itself but how it is promoted and packaged: placing unusually large share buttons at the top and the bottom of posts; experimenting with which headlines and photographs would be more seductive; devising strategies for making posts show up prominently in Facebook’s news feed.

…He offered practical tips: “Facebook should be eighty per cent of your effort, if you’re focussed on social media”; “Try to change every comma to a period”; “Use lists whenever possible. Lists just hijack the brain’s neural circuitry.” …In summary, Spartz said, “The more awesome you are, the more emotion you create, the more viral it is.”

…Spartz thinks that pathbreaking ideas are overvalued. “If you want to build a successful virus, you can start by trying to engineer the DNA from scratch—or, much more efficient, you take a virus that you already know is potent, mutate it a tiny bit, and expose it to a new cluster of people.” Brainwreck’s early posts “leaned more toward originality,” Spartz said—they featured novel combinations of images, with text that reflected at least a few minutes of online research—but with Dose “we’ve stopped doing that as much because more original lists take more time to put together, and we’ve found that people are no more likely to click on them.”

…Spartz calls himself an aggregator, but he is more like a day trader, investing in pieces of content that seem poised to go viral. He and his engineers have developed algorithms that scan the Internet for memes with momentum. The content team then acts as arbitrageurs, cosmetically altering the source material and reposting it under what they hope will be a catchier headline. A meme’s success on Imgur, Topsy, or “certain niche subreddits” might indicate a potential viral hit. He added, “The sources and the rules sound simple, but it takes a lot of experimentation to make it actually useful. It’s a lot of indicators weighed against each other, and they’re always changing.” If an image is popular on Reddit but relatively stagnant on Pinterest, for example, Spartz’s algorithm might pass it up in favor of something more likely to appeal to Dose’s audience.