Hashtags are powerful little tags in digital media. They can help people categorize topics, events, and happenings. They can help searchers find information on a topic. And they can sometimes help a little girl’s dream come true.
Let me tell you a story.
In January, Master Corporal Jeff Davis of Delaware's Dover Police Department made a little video. It was a dashboard confessionals video the Dover PD produced as community outreach. You might recognize it. It's the dashboard cam "Shake It Off" video.
Before long, the video went viral. More than 35 million views later, Officer Davis has become something of an Internet celebrity. One of those views was a 13 year old girl from Middletown, Delaware named Victoria Marsh. Victoria is a huge Taylor Swift fan. She even dressed up as Swift for Halloween. Her biggest wish was to be able to meet her idol.
That doesn't sound so uncommon until you learn that Marsh has cancer. She battles osteosarcoma (a form of bone cancer), and she has Down syndrome. The disease has already claimed her left leg below the knee.
Swift's record label sent the Dover PD tickets to one of her Philadelphia concerts. The Dover PD tried to give them to Victoria. However, Victoria's doctors said she was too ill from chemo treatments to attend. So, the police department decided to create, with Victoria's mother, a new video. This video was designed to tell Victoria's story, in her words and photos.
She wanted to gain support, and to attract Swift's attention in the hopes of meeting her in Philadelphia. The hashtag the police department created to go with the video was #SwiftAWish. The clock was ticking – there was only three weeks to get Swift's attention and set up the meeting.
Some current statistics on #SwiftAWish:
- 5900 search results on Google
- Thousands of posts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
- The “Victoria's Wish” video:
- Has more than 1.4 million Facebook views, was shared more than 56,000 times, and garnered 800 comments.
- Has more than 120,000 views on YouTube.
While this campaign was much smaller than the viral "Shake It Off" video, it was successful in its goals. Victoria gained a lot of support in her cancer fight...and she was able to meet her idol in Philadelphia before a concert.
But what combination of factors made the #SwiftAWish video and campaign work so well?
Let's look at the elements of virality to find the answer. A video that goes viral usually has the following qualitites:
So, let's compare this list against Victoria's #SwiftAWish video.
Marsh is a child who is one of a handful of people in the United States who has both Down syndrome and this form of bone cancer; a child battling cancer, and still keeping a smile on her face. And the biggest thing this sick little girl wanted was to meet her favorite singer. Yep, that will tug at some heartstrings. Sympathy, compassion, hope – these are just some of the emotions the #SwiftAWish campaign evoked.
This campaign involved a police department doing something unquestionably kind during a time of visible and violent police brutality being publicized throughout the country. The #SwiftAWish campaign started in May, less than a month after the Baltimore protests. The public sentiment about police was not positive. It was a pleasant surprise to see a police department create a video and lend their Internet fame to help a sick child meet her idol.
"Victoria's Wish" is a 4:21 video where she tells her story with words and photos, set to an acoustic version of Swift's song "Blank Space." Despite its length due to the music, its message is brief. Not one word is wasted. Victoria's story is compelling, made all the more eloquent without narration. It makes the viewer want to watch to the end, where the PD placed the call to action and relevant hashtags.
Victoria's Wish is framed as a "help me do this" plea. That's relevant to the target audience. Who could resist the wish of a 13 year old girl who has Down syndrome and cancer, especially when the help needed is just sharing the message across your social media profiles?
Businesses also want to help in the same way. Wilmington's Top-40 radio station WSTW shared Victoria's video on their Facebook page. So did Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where Victoria receives treatment. Nemours Children's Hospital (duPont Childrens' sister hospital) in Orlando shared the story, too. The local affiliates for the Fox and ABC networks also helped spread the story. And larger news sites such as Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post covered the #SwiftAWish campaign.
An addition to the relevance category is community. Delaware, culturally, is one big small town. We tend to look after our own and help when we're needed. Delawareans – individuals and local businesses – shared her story on all their social media channels.
But that's not all. Developmental disabilities agencies, cancer foundations, police-related organizations, Down syndrome associations – all these communities (who have commonalities with Victoria herself or with Dover's police) also shared her story. So did radio stations, pop and country, across the country. Many organizations with any kind of connection to the the police, Marsh or Swift banded together to put the power of social media to work. These were all examples of Victoria’s communities.
In his Inc.com piece, Archer wrote: "People share things that validate their own worldview, and that represent their beliefs and opinions." Given that, it's a bit of a surprise that #SwiftAWish didn't have larger viral success. This was a campaign built on compassion. Compassion is a virtue everyone likes to believe they have. Sharing is easy. Just a click of a share button or a re-tweet.
People spread the word as requested. They feel good about maybe, possibly having a tiny effect on helping a sick child's wish come true. The act of sharing validates that the sharer is a good person.
The Dover PD was wise in offering to make a video with Victoria's family, compared to any other kind of content. There are a couple of reasons video was such a smart choice:
- The blend of photography, text, and music made for a compelling video. The message wouldn't have worked in any other medium. The text and photographs could have tied together well in a slide show, but the addition of music added more emotion to the story. Video was, hands down, the best way to creatively tell Victoria's story.
- Video is enjoying a golden age on social media. Native Facebook video has significantly more organic reach than any other type of content. YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine, right behind its owner Google. Given that the Dover PD created Victoria's Wish specifically for social media, choosing video as the medium for Victoria's story was smart. It was the best choice for the intended purpose of sharing Victoria's story.
In the end, did a social media campaign directly cause Swift to meet Marsh? Only Taylor knows for sure. Did #SwiftAWish get her attention? More than likely she saw it on at least one of her accounts. Did the Dover police make viral lightning strike twice? Absolutely.