Tag Archives: stuff about BuzzFeed

How We Measure Success On the BuzzFeed Newsletter Team.

A photo posted by BuzzFeedx (@buzzfeedx) on

Fast Company has a cover story on BuzzFeed this month. In it, Dao — our publisher, and my former boss — talks at length about how we interpret data at BuzzFeed. She even dives deep into how we do things on the newsletter team!

I want to highlight one passage. When asked, Is the newsletter team looking at click-through rate(1), she answered:

For a long time, it was: you want to get subscribers up, you want to get clicks up, you want to get unsubscribes down. But one of the things we talk about all the time is there is no one metric you are optimizing for. Anyone who just optimizes to one metric is going to eventually have a problem. This obsession over time spent. In some way I feel that sort of rhetoric has died down. There really is no one metric.

I’ve learned a lot from Dao over the years. But one sentence in there really drives home Dao’s biggest message: “Anyone who just optimizes to one metric is going to eventually have a problem.”

What we’ve learned with newsletters is that there is no “silver bullet” metric. If you try to optimize your email for open rate, you’ll try to game the system with headlines that entice subscribers to click. (Case in point: “You’re Fired.”) But if you overpromise and underdeliver, you’ll lose subscribers in the long run. If you try to optimize for clicks, you’ll use bold colors and buttons. It’ll work well at first — but readers will learn to tune them out. There are dozens of other metrics out there for email. And what Dao’s taught me is true: If you focus all of your energy on a single metric, in the long run, you’ll fail.

So what we do at BuzzFeed is keep an eye on about five key metrics.(2) Knowing what matters most allows us to get a better understanding of how readers are using our newsletters. The data isn’t the full story — we still have to interpret it and figure out what our readers are trying to tell us from it. But in the long run, those data points help us iterate and build a better product.

And the same is true for any product you want to build. Try to pick a few metrics that give you a complete picture of the success of your work. If you’re a basketball coach, you can’t just tell your team to focus on 3-point shooting percentage — because that ignores huge metrics (rebounding, defensive field goal percentage, turnovers) that also make a difference in the outcome in a game. If you’re an app designer and the only metric is total downloads, you’ll do anything to game the system to get more downloads — while possibly neglecting an important set of metrics that can measure how much people like and use your app.

Point is: There is no silver bullet. The sooner you stop chasing one, the sooner you can start working to build a more complete product.

At top, a screenshot of BuzzFeed.com a decade ago.

  1. Click-through rate is a way to measure what percentage of readers who open a newsletter click through to a piece of content on our site.
  2. The five big ones right now: Subscription rate, open rate, click rate, clicks per 1000, mobile open rates.

I Started At BuzzFeed Three Years Ago Today, And This Is What Happened.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 4.04.00 PM

Today is my three-year anniversary at BuzzFeed. I remember my first day vividly. My then-boss, Dao Nguyen, was out sick. So Chris Johanesen, our head of product, welcomed me and showed me to my desk. “You know what you’re supposed to do, right?” he asked.

I most certainly did not.

I had built out Stry.us and launched Tools For Reporters. I had launched newsletters with both of those projects, and I had enough experience to know that newsletters could work at scale. But I didn’t know how to launch a project at this level. I didn’t know how to grow it, or even what I was looking for in a team. I wasn’t even sure if I would last long enough at BuzzFeed to hire a team!

And now on my three-year anniversary, I’m looking back with amazement at a few incredible facts:

-On Sunday, BuzzFeed newsletters drove its 100 millionth click to BuzzFeed.com. ONE HUNDRED MILLION CLICKS.

-In the chart at the top of this post, the giant blue hockey stick of a line is traffic to the site on a month-by-month basis. How did we even do that?

-To put everything in perspective: The week I started, our five automated newsletters were driving 14,000 clicks a week. We’ve grown from those five newsletters to a dozen core newsletters, plus another 10 automated newsletters (like this) and original newsletters in four other countries on four different continents. Pretty good!

-When I started, we had fewer than 20,000 subscriptions across our newsletters. Now, we’ve got more than 2 million subscriptions across our lists. (And we’ve got plenty of room to grow!)

-The team’s grown from me to a team of four in New York, plus another half dozen BuzzFeeders around the world who pitch in to write newsletters in three different languages every week.

-Our newsletters used to be automated, and almost unreadable on your phone. Now every newsletter is written by a human, and they’re all responsively designed.

How’d we achieve all this? By testing out lots of weird ideas (This Week In Cats, anyone?) and spending a lot of time looking at the data and trying to figure out where it was pointing us. By being super clear in our mission: to send newsletters that were always useful and delightful. And by seeking out great people who could bring the ideas, energy, and work to take newsletters to amazing places.

Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of growing newsletters into such an tremendous program at BuzzFeed. Here’s to what we’ve accomplished — and to everything we’ll learn between now and our billionth click. (Hey, we’re 10% of the way there already!)

What I Learned As A One-Man Band (Working Within A Larger Company)

I got asked the other day about how you make it work as a one-man band — if you’re starting at a decently sized company, but you’re the only advocate for what you do.

And I told this person:

At BuzzFeed, when we launched email, I was the only staffer fully devoted to email. Every single newsletter that was sent in 2013 — and they numbered in the thousands — was written by me. (It was a lot. I wouldn’t recommend doing that.)

But now, we’ve three — and soon to be four — others helping write our newsletters, and the email team continues to grow.

So how’d we get from there to here?

-We set simple goals for the products we wanted to launch.

-We figured out the metrics that were more important, and worked hard to meet — and exceed — those numbers. But we didn’t obsess over those day-to-day numbers, especially if the overall feedback about the product was strong.

-We launched things quickly. Like I always write: When you build something with Good/Better/Done in mind, you’re able to get it out the door quickly, and then improve it as you go.

-We didn’t waste motion. After the first few weeks, we didn’t spend too much time talking about the What Ifs before a launch. We picked a target, we roped in the necessary people we needed for support, and we got the product out the door. Everything up until launch is an exercise in theory — so just get the thing launched.

I knew when I started at BuzzFeed that I was going to have to work like a crazy person to get email off the ground. But now it’s starting to take off. And as it has, my bosses have been hugely supportive of the project, and are helping give it the fuel it needs to grow.

I couldn’t have done this alone forever. But to start, I didn’t need a lot.

That photo of an actual one-man band comes via Flickr’s William Ward.

Data + Story.

kiyomi and taro shibas, on the couch

Two weeks ago, while I was writing out my annual “What I Believe” post, I had a small epiphany, and jotted this down:

If you can show it in a spreadsheet, you can sell it. And if you can pair that data with a great story, you’ve really got something.

In my job at BuzzFeed, I report to two people: Dao, our director of traffic; and Erica, our managing editor. With Dao, it’s all about numbers. Show her that the numbers are trending upward, and she’ll listen.

With Erica — and any of the other editors at BuzzFeed — it’s all about the story. If you can tell a great story, they’ll listen.

When you pair those together, that’s when the magic really happens. I wrote that when you put them together, “you’ve really got something.” Which is true.

But what I really meant to say is: When you pair them together, you’ve really earned respect. In your work, you’ll have to sell your ideas to others. One of the secrets to sales is being able to pair data and a great story. Get those two elements together, and they’ll not only listen — they’ll follow you where you want to go.

That’s a photo of two shibas, because, you know, BuzzFeed. It comes via Taro the Shiba Inu on Flickr.

Building Big Things Never Happens Fast.

“Velocity, not speed.” — Siqi Chen

There is a funny misconception that exists in the general public about building big companies. They see something like Instagram, which sold for a billion dollars, and think: The path from A to B(illionaire) doesn’t take that long.


Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

I work at BuzzFeed now. That photo at top is what our office looks like today.

But this is what it looked like in 2007, in the earliest days of BuzzFeed.

Not quite as exciting, right?

I remember those types of days at Stry.us. I remember sleeping on the floor in a small apartment next to a cow pasture. I remember that when I hit the “Sleeping On A Floor In A Small Apartment Next To A Cow Pasture” point, that was actually a big milestone for Stry.us.

Good things come slowly. You build with good people. You find ways to hang in the game as long as you can.

The road is slow and long and kind of boring sometimes. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, that’s okay. Building big things isn’t for everyone.

But if that sounds like something you like? Well, start as soon as you can. You’re going to need all the time you have.

A Dan Oshinsky Life Status Update That You May Not Believe Is Real (But Is).

This is the giant LOL button at the entryway to the BuzzFeed HQ

So I’ll keep this semi-brief: In two weeks, I’m going to start a new job. At BuzzFeed.

Yes, the same BuzzFeed that regularly produces stories like this.

I’m going to join them as their first-ever Newsletter Editor. I’ll be working out of their New York office. I am pretty freaking excited about this.

If you’re not all that familiar with the company, here’s what you need to know: BuzzFeed is built around the idea that great stories deserve to be shared, and they’ve made a major push into social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

But for the most part, they’ve stayed out of the email game.

No more.

I’m a big believer in email. I think it’s an underutilized tool. Consider this:

-There are 900 million Facebook users worldwide.
-There are 175 million Twitter users.
-There are 83 million Tumblr blogs.

But email? There are 3.1 billion email addresses in the world. (1)

Email is — by a huge margin — the most widely-used network for sharing information, ideas and content.

And yet, among news organizations, it’s a tool we’ve largely ignored. When we talk about social networks, we mention Facebook and Twitter and whatever network just launched in beta last week, but we always leave out email.

I think that’s a mistake — so at BuzzFeed, we’re going to prove just how valuable email can be.

We’re going to use that giant email network to make sure that you can see the silliest cat photos the Internet has to offer. (2) We’ll be building out some new products just for email, and we’ll be doing lots of experiments to make sure that we get the best, most shareable content into your inbox.

If you’re interested in following along with what I’ll be doing, you can sign up for the BuzzFeed emails here.

(And if you were wondering: I’ll keep posting here on danoshinsky.com, and my Tools for Reporters email will keep going out each Tuesday per usual.)

  1. Yes, I know. That includes spam accounts. But then again: Those other social network numbers are inflated, too, by fake accounts and non-active users.
  2. Plus: We’ll be sharing lots of serious news, and many awesome non-feline stories.