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Podcast: How BuzzFeed Made #TheDress Go Viral

Twitter is humming 24 hours a day. Facebook has peak times in the mornings and then a “prime time” in the evening. And the enigmatic Facebook algorithm can make or break a website’s traffic. When you have your hands on some of the biggest social media accounts on the Internet, it’s important to know how different networks behave and drive eyeballs (and ad dollars). And many of the decisions about how to frame content on social media are driven by real-time data.

On this week’s episode of our podcast What’s The Point, Samir Mezrahi, social media manager at BuzzFeed (@buzzfeed: 2.49 million followers) and Amaka Obaze, formerly of the NBA (@nba: 16.9 million followers) and now with Grantland, discuss how data tells them when to tweet, what to post and how to do damage control. And, yes, we get the story of how Samir turned the blue-and-black dress — or was it white and gold? — into BuzzFeed’s most popular post ever.

Plus, this week’s Significant Digit: A reply-all email chain gone wrong. One thread flooded 33,000 inboxes at Thomson Reuters.

Stream or download the full episode above and find a partial transcript below.

How that dress went viral


Samir Mezrahi: It was a Thursday, late afternoon, and I overheard people in the office talking about this post, in a heated argument. So naturally I knew there was some controversy, and I tweeted it out from @buzzfeed. We look at live analytics a lot, just to see how tweets are doing and what kind of response they are getting, and this was off the charts. People were clicking to look at it, and they were retweeting, and they were talking about it. So it was like, “Whoa.”

Jody Avirgan: But how quickly do you get that feedback?

Mezrahi: Instantly. Depending on [the post], people will either be really click-heavy and go to it, or [it] gets a lot of retweets but not a lot of clicks. But this had both, and it was a huge surge.

Avirgan: And you’ve been there long enough, and your account is big enough, that you can tell pretty quickly whether something’s going to simmer or take off?

Mezrahi: It was pretty continuous. Celebrities can retweet and it doesn’t get this kind of engagement. Twitter is a great place to try new content and see how it goes, so naturally the next place to put it on was Facebook.

Avirgan: I read a post on BuzzFeed where you mentioned that you put it on Facebook a few different times in a few different ways.

Mezrahi: We try to do what’s best for the social network. I wanted to post it to Facebook as a photo … but I wasn’t sure what kind of experience you needed to get it. So I posted it as a full photo, and there was engagement, but [not like] that surge from Twitter. I was like, “We’re missing out on some traffic here.” So I [decided] we should post it as a link. And I sat on that for a couple minutes …

Avirgan: A couple minutes? You say that like it’s a long amount of time. That strikes me as a short amount of time.

Mezrahi: Well, we’re obsessive.

If you’re a fan of What’s The Point, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, and please leave a rating/review — that helps spread the word to other listeners. And be sure to check out our sports show Hot Takedown as well. Have something to say about this episode, or have an idea for a future show? Get in touch by email, on Twitter, or in the comments.

What’s The Point’s music was composed by Hrishikesh Hirway, host of the “Song Exploder” podcast. Download our theme music.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.