BuzzFeed COO Jon Steinberg on Social Marketing

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BuzzFeed president and chief operating officer Jon Steinberg says the company wants to build a media empire the likes of Hearst or Condé Nast. And it plans to use "social advertising" to get there.

Also known as content marketing or content advertising, Steinberg says it replaces the familiar banner ad on top of a news site with embedded content that tells a story about a product.

"It's not saying 'just buy this stuff because I tell you to buy it.' It's more informational and interesting in nature. It's almost like an advertorial in a lot of ways," he told Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC's New Tech City.

In fact, Steinberg believes social advertising takes its cues from the golden era of advertising.

"There’s nothing new about this," he said.  "This hearkens back to David Ogilvy advertising in the 1950s. Advertising got really bad in the last 20 years. It became just banners that scream at people."

But some critics question the content marketing, saying it blurs the line between news and marketing. Steinberg said at BuzzFeed, there's a firewall between traditional journalism and advertising.

"We have a completely separate team that works on content with ad agencies and brands,' he said. "They're totally walled off from editorial. So there’s a church and state there."

In fact, Steinberg said more traditional media companies would be wise to follow BuzzFeed's lead.

"The banner has been around for 18 years. It’s a completely broken product," he said. "The solution to make journalism work is to come up with a great product....Great ad products help media businesses to thrive."

Still, company brass won't comment on the profitability of the site. And Steinberg said BuzzFeed's real goal right now is to grow, noting that the company has gone from 15 employees at its start to 230 now.

"The issue with a growth company is we’re always investing ahead of when those resources turn profitable," he says.