From Humor to Heartbreak, BuzzFeed Thrives by Stirring Emotions

New publisher Dao Nguyen on balancing laughs with hard news


Photo: Alfred Maskeroni

Who Dao Nguyen
New gig Publisher, BuzzFeed
Old gig Vp of growth and data, BuzzFeed
Age 41
Twitter @daozers

What do you do as publisher?
Publishing is literally the act of making information available to the public. For a purely digital operation like BuzzFeed, what we take publishing to mean is the entire technology platform. It's how we make information available to the public—all the tools that our editors and creative [workers] use to make content, how it appears on the site and how it is distributed on the Internet through social networks.

What were you doing before?
I ran growth and data at BuzzFeed, which means I was working within the technology team to increase our audience and manage the data. I'm bringing the knowledge that I have gained about how content moves on the Internet, the importance of data and how online video is consumed and shared on the Internet. I also used to be the CEO of Le Monde Interactif in Paris. I'm bringing my experience managing a large organization and thinking about how organization and strategy help shape and contribute to the success of a company.

What content does well on BuzzFeed—besides cats?
(Laughs) Basically content that stirs an emotion does well. It can range from a funny list about kids to an insightful commentary on current events to investigative stories about an injustice or a heartbreaking situation. It can be a list, it can be a long-form story, it can be an essay, but if a story stirs an emotion then it drives sharing.

Most people don't recognize BuzzFeed for its long form.
There are a couple different kinds of long form. One is our feature stories, which have wide ranging topics such as a story about retirement homes to an essay about a 33-year-old who had a stroke to a profile of a woman who pretended to be a teenager for almost 20 years. The other kind of long form we do is investigative reporting. Mark Schoofs, who is our investigative editor and a Pulitzer Prize winner, and his team have broken so many stories this year. Alex Campbell spent six months on a story about abused women who are sent to prison after their abuser hurts or kills their child. That story was incredibly heartbreaking, but we hope to shed light on these laws that are being used in unintentional ways. A top NSA official was fired after our reporting of conflicts of interest between her job and her family's business.

What sets BuzzFeed's branded content apart?
We have an in-house creative team that works with advertisers to build content that delivers their message in a shareable way. When advertisers run campaigns on BuzzFeed not only do they get paid media, but they get earned media from the sharing of this content on social and having additional readers being driven back to it. We've found there is a lift in intent and brand affinity if people are driven to content by their friends. We use a combination of creativity and data to optimize the content we create.

In true BuzzFeed fashion, what are three things we don't know about Dao?
One, despite working at BuzzFeed, I have very little knowledge about pop culture. For example, I did not recognize Kanye West when he came into our office last year. Second, my full first name is Phuong-Dao. It means fragrant peach blossom in Vietnamese. Third, my mom is a Buddhist nun. She's 80 so she doesn't live in a temple full time, just half of the week. It's hard to be truly mindful all the time, but I do try to live in the moment.

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