Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Viral Social Media, Dissected

Viral Social Media, Dissected

By Suzanne Cordatos

The Singing Salutatorian
How well do you remember commencement speeches? With 24,000 high schools in the USA, I’d guess 48,000 valedictorian and salutatorian speeches this year were highly forgettable, no matter how well they were received in the moment. In under a week, however, Wethersfield High School’s Greg Corning has garnered 29,000 hits--and counting--on YouTube with his salutatorian speech.

Mouse-squeaks of jealousy vie for attention in my brain with admiration over his cleverness at going viral. How did he do it? What did he say? What did he eat for breakfast? Can I have some, too?

Which way to the readers?
I've been brainstorming ways to "trap" new readers and "train" them to want my upcoming books. It sounds manipulative, but it is simply a matter of locating my potential audience and figuring out how to provide them the opportunity to read a book I think they will love. I’ve got time, about a year—plenty of time to dissect the success of other writers. 

Choosing popular songs from each of his four years of high school, Greg Corning sang his speech, changing the words of hit songs to be meaningful to his classmates. Apparently, WHS endured heavy renovations this past year, because his take on Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball got a big reaction.

Viral-ness isn’t necessarily our goal as writers, but book promotion? Absolutely. Sweeping the globe with my best ideas between book covers? Sign me up! Like the recently viral (but now ancient) Gangnam-style dance, it’s impossible to predict what wacky idea will gain a huge following next, but let’s pick apart this WHS speech like an unfortunate subject of a high school Biology lesson to see what scratches its way into our memories. Perhaps we can add one or more of these ideas to our next book promotion to boost its popularity and success. The Salutatorian's speech hit all of these hot buttons:

Popularwithin seconds, the audience recognized the songs and could hum along to every note.

Familiarlike blue jeans, people like what is comfortable. The songs were familiar, and his words told stories everyone already knew about their shared experience.

Surprisingnobody expected a song in place of a speech. The matserial was familiar but fresh. Like editors say, there is no new story under the sun, just different ways of telling it.

Range of emotion from funny to sentimental, practical to emotional to inspirational, the range of emotions in his lyrics kept the audience awake and interested, poised for what’s next.

Audience-focusedaudience members could feel as if parts had been written expressly for them alone.

Heart-filledpresented with sincerity, nobody doubted that the speaker cared for the audience and was fully committed to his idea. No hesitation, no apologies for the unconventional method. Simple and heart-felt.

QUESTION: Have you discovered any other hot buttons that work to attract attention? Have you used any of the above tactics to achieve a desired result in your own promotions?


  1. Great idea comparing our writing to graduation speeches. The audience-focused is a biggee. We must address issues that touch other people. To do that, we must first touch ourselves. My first mentor, DiAnn Mills once asked me to sit & write about the most painful period in my life. I wrote with tears streaming. When it hits us emotionally, we have a better chance of hitting our audience, too.

  2. You're right, Janet. If we write about something powerful that impacted our lives with tears streaming down our cheeks, a reader will feel the emotions, too. Thanks for the comment!