Home » Dao Nguyen: What Makes Something Go Viral? (Transcript)

Dao Nguyen: What Makes Something Go Viral? (Transcript)

Let me show you the map that we have today. Each bubble is a specific job, and each group of bubbles in a specific color are related jobs. First up: humor. “Makes me laugh.” There are so many ways to make somebody laugh. You can be laughing at someone, you could laugh at specific internet humor, you could be laughing at some good, clean, inoffensive dad jokes.

“This is me.” Identity. People are increasingly using media to explain, “This is who I am. This is my upbringing, this is my culture, this is my fandom, this is my guilty pleasure, and this is how I laugh about myself.” “Helps me connect with another person” This is one of the greatest gifts of the internet. It’s amazing when you find a piece of media that precisely describes your bond with someone.

This is the group of jobs that helps me do something — helps me settle an argument, helps me learn something about myself or another person, or helps me explain my story. This is the group of jobs that makes me feel something — makes me curious or sad or restores my faith in humanity.

Many media companies and creators do put themselves in their audiences’ shoes. But in the age of social media, we can go much farther. People are connected to each other on Facebook, on Twitter, and they’re increasingly using media to have a conversation and to talk to each other.

If we can be a part of establishing a deeper connection between two people, then we will have done a real job for these people. Let me give you some examples of how this plays out. This is one of my favorite lists: “32 Memes You Should Send Your Sister Immediately” – immediately. For example, “When you’re going through your sister’s stuff, and you hear her coming up the stairs.” Absolutely, I’ve done that.

“Watching your sister get in trouble for something that you did and blamed on her.” Yes, I’ve done that as well. This list got three million views. Why is that? Because it did, very well, several jobs: “This is us” “Connect with family” “Makes me laugh”.

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Here are some of the thousands and thousands of comments that sisters sent to each other using this list. Sometimes we discover what jobs do after the fact. This quiz, “Pick an Outfit and We’ll Guess Your Exact Age and Height,” went very viral: 10 million views. Ten million views.

I mean — did we actually determine the exact age and height of 10 million people? That’s incredible. It’s incredible. In fact, we didn’t. Turns out that this quiz went extremely viral among a group of 55-and-up women who were surprised and delighted that BuzzFeed determined that they were 28 and 5’9″. “They put me at 34 years younger and seven inches taller. I dress for comfort and do not give a damn what anyone says: Age is a state of mind.” This quiz was successful not because it was accurate, but because it allowed these ladies to do a very important job — the humblebrag.

Now, we can even apply this framework to recipes and food. A recipe’s normal job is to tell you what to make for dinner or for lunch. And this is how you would normally brainstorm for a recipe: you figure out what ingredients you want to use, what recipe that makes, and then maybe you slap a job on at the end to sell it. But what if we flipped it around and thought about the job first?

One brainstorming session involved the job of bonding. So, could we make a recipe that brought people together? This is not a normal brainstorming process at a food publisher. So we know that people like to bake together, and we know that people like to do challenges together, so we decided to come up with a recipe that involved those two things, and we challenged ourselves: Could we get people to say, “Hey, BFF, let’s see if we can do this together”? The resulting video was the “Fudgiest Brownies Ever” video. It was enormously successful in every metric possible — 70 million views.

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And people said the exact things that we were going after: “Hey, Colette, we need to make these, are you up for a challenge?” “Game on.” It did the job that it set out to do, which was to bring people together over baking and chocolate. I’m really excited about the potential for this project. When we talk about this framework with our content creators, they instantly get it, no matter what beat they cover, what country they’re in, or what language they speak. So cultural cartography has helped us massively scale our workforce training.

When we talk about this project and this framework with advertisers and brands, they also instantly get it, because advertisers, more often than media companies, understand how important it is to understand the job that their products are doing for customers.

But the reason I’m the most excited about this project is because it changes the relationship between media and data. Most media companies think of media as “mine”. How many fans do I have? How many followers have I gained? How many views have I gotten? How many unique IDs do I have in my data warehouse? But that misses the true value of data, which is that it’s yours. If we can capture in data what really matters to you, and if we can understand more the role that our work plays in your actual life, the better content we can create for you, and the better that we can reach you.

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