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'No one metric to rule them all' - BuzzFeed publisher on site's social sharing strategy


By Stephen Lepitak, -

November 10, 2014 | 5 min read

BuzzFeed's recently appointed publisher Dao Nguyen has opened up about how and why social shares are valued highly and how the online media outlet measures the success of its content.

Dao Nguyen

Speaking at the Columbia Media Conference in New York, run by the Spectator Publishing Company, Nguyen cited the previously revealed figures that the company has 175 million global users and 500 million monthly views across all all platforms but said that its audience sharing content was one of its highest measurement bars.

"For us the mission is to create content that people want to share. You can trick someone into clicking on a piece of content but you can't trick someone into sharing something. To get someone to share content is a very high bar," she stated, adding that BuzzFeed continually considered what sort of content people want to share.

"The way people produce content has evolved over time. It used to be that there was media and you would just consume a piece of content. When you share content it sometimes becomes about identity," she continued, using an example of a piece she wrote herself as one such success.

"I might share this because I think it helps people understand something about me or my husband might share it with me and say 'this is so you and your family'. It's a very different thing and content and media have become a proxy for conversation. That's been the way for a long time and with Emojis you can sometimes convey how you feel better than a paragraph."

She went onto to claim that a psychological reason for content sharing was to make friends share an emotion or help bring them closer together. "Sharing becomes a form of communication," she stated before continuing to discuss how social networks had evolved as media platforms where content could effectively be distributed.

"Facebook used to be a place where you would post pictures of your drunk friends the night before. Twitter was where you would tweet your breakfast, but then people really started using these platforms to share news content. When we saw this trend happening this was when Jonah [Peretti] hired Ben Smith to become our editor in chief...We didn't create any news content in 2011. Now people are sharing a lot of content on Facebook which is one of the largest places where young people discover news today."

BuzzFeed is currently in the midst of developing itself to become a serious news outlet, with over 100 journalists employed worldwide across 20 countries including the Ukraine, Syria, Turkey and in the US.

She also claimed that the perception that only short articles or image heavy pieces were shared was a myth, with long-form content also having proven successful for the outlet through mobile channels as well as desktop.

"If someone shares a story with you on your phone you are going to read it because your friend said it was great. And so it's not the length of a piece of content that matters. It's about how it's written. Everything you learn about in journalism school matters and it matters even more because the bar we are setting is extremely high. So we want people to find a story that is so revelatory and touching that they will want to share it."

Nguyen also revealed that Pinterest was its second most successful social distribution channel after Facebook and before Twitter, while the BuzzFeed video department had also grown to reach half a billion views, with 50 people now employed at its LA studio.

She also claimed that search continued to be important for content discovery, explaining that searches directly to the BuzzFeed homepage were constant, although conceded that younger people were discovering content through social channels mainly.

"When we talk about content, one piece of content is competing with every other piece of content posted on the Internet; posted by your friends, posted on BuzzFeed, and everywhere else," she warned. "Every piece of content is judged by itself. Did it reach an audience? Were people interested in it? What was the best way of it getting there through sharing? So that's why we use social as a metric."

Nguyen also revealed that 68 per cent of users who shared contentrkm BuzzFeed spent more time on a story than those who didn't, while 80 per cent was also found to spend more time on a piece of branded content had they shared it.

"There is an even higher bar for sponsored content than non sponsored content."

Later during a panel session, Nguyen also stated that BuzzFeed success was not measured on click throughs and added that she didn't believe that there was "one metric to rule them all", echoing editor in chief Ben Smith who last week publicly denied that BuzzFeed created 'click bait' following a comment made by The Daily Show Host, Jon Stewart.

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