What Ted Williams taught us about social media

I’ve resisted writing about the ‘Homeless Man With The Golden Voice’ Ted Williams because, frankly, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. The radio industry has been known to pull stunts like this in the past. As of this writing, the story appears to be legitimate (though I am praying Mr. Williams is truly getting a second chance and not being exploited by his 15 seconds of Internet fame).

That said, there are several things we can glean from this latest social meme:

You never know – If you Google the phrase ‘how to make your video go viral’ you’ll get over seven million hits! There are paid services that will help you. There are gurus and wizards that will give you a ten step process for making a viral video. You can read blog post after blog post that will break down all the components that make a video go viral. The reality is that no one can truly predict what resonates on the web. If there were a tried and true formula we’d see this phenomenon on a daily basis. What makes viral videos special is their relative rarity.

When the reporter from The Columbus Dispatch first recorded the story do you think he knew it had viral potential? I doubt it. He saw a good story for his paper and pursued it. This was not a pre-meditated attempt to create a social meme.

The viral opportunity is always present. However, like fads they spring from the most unlikely of sources (think the pet rock) when you least expect them. With the amount of video uploaded to You Tube every minute the odds against yours going viral are astronomical.

You can’t control it – but you better be ready to control your content. When The Columbus Dispatch posted their video someone grabbed it off their website and posted it to You Tube. Unfortunately, the Dispatch did not receive proper credit. This was their copyrighted story that someone ‘stole’. This happens every day. It led the newspaper to invoke their copyright and have it pulled from You Tube. Then, they reposted it giving themselves the well deserved credit.

There has been a lot of grousing about this but the Dispatch has every right to control their content. They created it and should reap any rewards – like increased site traffic – as a result.

Every time you post content – especially videos – make sure you brand it. Embed your logo and web site. Set up a landing page for people to ‘find out more’. This is what the Dispatch has done – retroactively. If you are trying to go viral for your brand you are doing it for a marketing purpose. For example, The Old Spice Guy was one of the biggest virals of 2010 and ALL the credit, traffic and brand awareness went to Old Spice because they owned it.

Timing is everything – Yes, social media is immediate. Your latest content post can be viewed and shared (and ignored) in a matter of seconds. However, that doesn’t mean your content has to be created immediately. The Ted Williams story was released on the web on January 4th. The actual video was shot a month prior. The Dispatch sat on the story and didn’t release it until there was a slow news day. Was this calculated or pure serendipity? (Clearly, by their lack of preparedness it was the latter). Still, the story was evergreen. It would have resonated if posted next month, too.

Don’t feel like you have to create and post immediately. Sometimes you will have content in your vault that won’t resonate until the cultural climate is ripe or there is a lull in the news cycle or other events appear that make your content more relatable. Going viral is about timing but the age of your content is the least important variable.

You need an audience – You’re not going viral if no one knows you’re there. The Columbus Dispatch is a major media outlet with a strong distribution system. They have plenty of eyeballs viewing their content. Do you?

True, a viral video can put your brand on the map but the chances of getting there are slim if you don’t have a significant following. The nature of viral videos is that they appear organically. You can’t force the process. You can only post and hope.

Be prepared – Assume anything you post has the potential to go viral. Manage your expectations because the odds are against you but be ready to react and respond if you hit the mother lode. This includes anticipating negative reaction.

It’s the story, stupid – The Ted Williams story is compelling. It is about luck, redemption and amazement. Every single one of us has seen a homeless person on the street and given little thought to their back story. Mr. Williams was smart enough to create a unique panhandling appeal (a stroke of marketing genius). That drew the attention. It was the story that sealed the deal.

As I wrote here, great content is all about passion. It is not about story length or even subject matter. It is about connecting with an audience. Once that connection is made they will do the viral work for you.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan

Social Media Specialist



About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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2 Responses to What Ted Williams taught us about social media

  1. Pingback: What Ted Williams taught us about social media | 香港新媒體協會

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