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Capturing the Buzz of the Online Filipino

Photos by Star Sabroso

You’ve shared the memes on your social media feeds. You’ve read the articles that made you choose which #APEChottie you were rooting for during the APEC week, or showed you various ways to use Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach’s facial reactions in daily life situations. Love it or hate it, one thing’s for certain –  Buzzfeed, through its Philippines section, has captured the buzz of the online Filipino, and at the heart of this online phenomenon is Matthew “Matt” Ortile.

A quick lookback: Buzzfeed has grown as a social news and entertainment company since its establishment in New York back in 2006. Currently, the site’s content is divided into 32 subsections catering to various niche markets and content: Animals, Audio, Big Stories, Books, Business, Buzz, Celebrity, DIY, Entertainment, Food, Geeky, Health, Ideas, LGBT, Life, Music, News, Parents, Podcasts, Politics, Puzzles, Quizzes, Rewind, Science, Sports, Style, Tech, Travel, Videos, Weddings, Weekend, and World . Moreover, the website is available in 10 different editions including US, UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Español, France, India, and Mexico. 

Then in 2013, Buzzfeed started exploring the Philippine market when posts about the life of Pinoys abroad started appearing on the website. “I started working in Buzzfeed at the summer of 2013 as an intern through their Editorial Fellowship program, which is a three-month job interview to work for Buzzfeed,” shares Matt. “So when I was a fellow, I did a couple of posts that dealt with Filipino identity and talked about being a Filipino. After which our editor-in-chief approached me saying that there was a big spike in traffic from the Philippines when I posted those articles, and found it as a very interesting market.” 

Matt though initially turned down a full position offer at the company as he was still completing his double degree in English and Media Studies at Vassar College at the time. Matt officially joined the Buzzfeed team the following year after his graduation.

“Funnily, I was brought on to Buzzfeed to not do writing at all as I was hired to do editorial operations which is basically helping our editors and writers do their best work.” Matt shares that he was playing multiple roles so he got to do various stuff for the company. There were days he would train the new hires in their New York, London or Sydney offices, planning big events, coordinating with their senior management for planning content in the coming months, or arranging speakers and celebrity office visits. 

He continues, “So, one day they said that I was someone who was teaching a lot of these stuff to the team so I should also be writing.” With that, Matt resumed writing – and it was there that Buzzfeed Philippines was born. According to Matt, his article that currently has the most impact was on “21 annoying comments Filipinos are tired of hearing” which he attributed to the presence of Filipinos not just in the US, but in other parts of the world. 

“Buzzfeed Philippines started because I was there and they saw that something was clicking. And they said, why don’t I give it a shot and let’s see what happens.” Matt shares that in spite of (managing) Buzzfeed Philippines not being his main role in the company, he’s happy and grateful for the opportunity that his organization gave him to create the community. “They gave me the budget and the social media channels. And so, Buzzfeed is great in a way that when they see something is working, they’ll give it a push and see what happens and now it’s really, really exciting.” 

Buzzfeed Philippines editor Matt Ortile

Despite a lean team, Matt and a couple of his freelance writers based in the Philippines and New York grew the Buzzfeed Philippines community. In less than two years, Buzzfeed Philippines has broken the 100,000 mark in its Facebook page and has continued to engage audiences through social media accounts. “We pick our stories basically on what people are sharing online, what people are talking about, and what the cultural conversation is right now on the Philippine internet.” From what he has observed, there are two ways to get Filipinos engaged: humor and emotions. 

“What I think on what makes Filipinos share on the internet to a really, really high degree is something that makes them laugh. Kung nakakatawa, is-share yan ng mga Fiipino. Kasi mahilig sila mag-joke, magpatawa sa sarili nila at sa ibang tao.” He further shares that being exposed to Buzzfeed Philippines makes him impressed at how creative Filipinos can get. “Ang galing talaga ng utak ng Pilipino, ang daming puns, and jokes and word play. 

Magaling ang Pilipino doon.” On the other hand, he also observed that Pinoys love sharing very heartwarming things, stories that really touch people, and very emotional content such as when they posted about Claudine Barretto’s recent Instagram post about Rico Yan’s letter which garnered a lot of retweets and shares to which Matt remarks, “May forever talaga sa mga Pilipino.”        

According to Matt, Buzzfeed’s incredible social media clout can be attributed to two things. First factor is that “Buzzfeed captures the pulse of the internet.” He likens the Buzzfeed readership experience as one’s older sibling showing you what’s something cool and relevant that’s happening on the internet today. “The things that we share are things that make people think and things that make people feel.” 

The second factor according to Matt is that Buzzfeed meets where people are. Whether it’s on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, or any of the social media platforms, their goal is to make engaging Buzzfeed content to where people are having fun rather than making them go to their website just for clicks. When asked about his opinion with regards to Buzzfeed being viewed as a website thriving on clickbait and “dumb” content, Matt challenges those people to read Buzzfeed’s website thoroughly. 

He pointed out that in spite of the fact that a portion of their content is about cute cat videos, lists about celebrities making weird faces or Chris Hemsworth’s abs, Buzzfeed, through its News section, has written a deeply reported investigation on such topics as the American H2 visa and how it corresponds to legal slavery, or a piece on women who were wrongfully incarcerated for being unable to protect their children from abusive husbands, boyfriends or partners. 

Matt says they even did a comprehensive report of the Jennifer Laude case in the Philippines through the collaboration of the LGBT and News subsections. He further adds that their Lifestyle section also does posts that create a big impact on people and saves people’s lives. He points out an article they did about “things to look out for when you have nipples,” and someone wrote to thank them for the article as it urged her to visit her doctor where she found out that she had early stage breast cancer. “We entertain people, we educate people as well through our news, we break news such as the Paris terrorist attacks, we have debunked social media hoaxes that were going around during the Paris attacks, we keep people informed with the right and correct information, we do all of that,”  he stresses.

When asked about what’s in store for 2016, Matt jokingly responds, “We’re still deciding. Ang aga pa! It’s just January 2016.” But, Matt feels strongly optimistic for the year. As a company, they’re looking into more collaboration among their different offices globally and subsections. As for Buzzfeed Philippines, he honestly doesn’t know yet. According to him, the team’s just really happy that their platform and how they work and what the internet has given them has really opened ways to explore new markets with agility and speed.  And even with just a small crew, they’ve managed to grow the community which is currently at 100,000 Facebook likes in a short span of time, proudly pointing out that the number is more than Buzzfeed Canada and Mexico – markets that have a dedicated team and office. 

Matt says his team reciprocates the excitement that the Filipino community is giving to them.  Personally, Matt hopes to feature more Filipino communities in the US through long form articles, photo essays and projects. He also would like to explore the sex, dating and relationship culture of the Philippines as he had been dubbed as the “Carrie Bradshaw of Buzzfeed” due to the previous articles he did for the website. 

As a hugely popular international portal that strongly represents the Filipino identity in the online space, Matt feels a subtle responsibility in all that he does for Buzzfeed Philippines, but he points out that he’s grateful that his organization supports his thrust for writing and allows him to do what he loves to do and talk about what he loves and interests him organically.  

Bottom line is, Buzzfeed Philippines is really for Filipinos. “Here’s the thing. Filipinos love beauty pageants. Benta sa ‘tin ang Miss Earth, Miss World, Miss Universe. I don’t care what the world, the universe rather, thinks about Filipinos. I care about what Filipinos think about themselves.”  

Matt points out that regardless of whether they post about Pia Wurtzbach’s facial reactions, Alma Moreno’s reservations, Americans trying to speak Filipino for the first or whatnot, as long as it makes Filipinos laugh, keeps them happy and entertains them, then that’s what Buzzfeed Philippines is for. As for the non-Filipino audiences who stumble upon the Philippine page, Matt admits it might get a little weird and strange, but he hopes that it will give the site visitor useful insights on the true culture of the Filipino.    

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