Of all of Facebook’s superpowers, perhaps the most disconcerting is how it can make online publishers disappear with the push of a button.
Think I’m exaggerating? Just look at what happened to websites like Upworthy, Viralnova and Distractify, which amassed enormous Facebook followings and then faded from view after the site’s algorithm started to weed out pages that published hyperbolic headlines and low-value fluff. Other publishers that depend on Facebook for a large portion of their traffic — which is to say, most of them — fear they could be next under the guillotine.
But there is also a remarkable story about longevity in the Facebook publishing world. It comes, improbably, from Vilnius, Lithuania, where a small but mighty digital publisher is successfully navigating the changing tides of Facebook’s algorithms. Its story illustrates the qualities needed to survive in today’s Facebook-dominated digital media world: agility, lean operations, a clearly defined brand and a fair bit of luck.
The company, Bored Panda, might not be familiar to you. But if you have a Facebook account and a pulse, you’ve probably seen its handiwork. Maybe it was “10+ Before-And-After Pics That Prove Men Look Better With Beards,” or “41 Times Uber Drivers Surprised Their Clients.” Or perhaps you watched “Shh, Don’t Wake Them,” a 49-second video montage of dogs, cats and hamsters sleeping peacefully.
Lightweight and inoffensive posts like these have made Bored Panda one of the biggest attractions on Facebook. Its page received more than 30 million likes, shares, comments and reactions last month, far more than companies like BuzzFeed, CNN and The New York Times, according to NewsWhip, which compiles data on social media publishers. Its website had 116 million visitors last month, according to its internal analytics.
The company has done all this without raising outside funding, unlike digital powerhouses such as BuzzFeed and Vice, which have collected hundreds of millions of dollars. It also has only 41 employees, and the low operating costs, along with its enormous popularity, have made for good business. Tomas Banisauskas, Bored Panda’s founder, told me he expects to be profitable this year with $20 million to $30 million in revenue, mostly from the advertisements that appear on its website. Roughly 90 percent of its web traffic comes from Facebook, making the social network by far the biggest factor in Bored Panda’s success.
“They’re a really helpful company for us,” Mr. Banisauskas, 31, said of Facebook.
Bored Panda began as a side project in 2009, while Mr. Banisauskas, then a freelance videographer, was studying business administration at Vilnius University. He was inspired by feats of internet creativity like the Million Dollar Homepage, in which an entrepreneur auctioned off a million pixels on a website for $1 each. And he came up with the idea for a website that would, as he put it, “fight boredom with art and good news stories.”
On the content side, Bored Panda’s strategy followed a familiar playbook. It collected user-generated content from…
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