By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

For the second time in a week, tweets and online conversations of School of Information Studies (iSchool)–affiliated social media authors have gone viral – sparking worldwide and across-the-United States as top Twitter topic trends.

S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications student Ben Glidden (@beneg92 on Twitter), who describes himself as “a socialmedia addict from Maine,” a student in the iSchool course, “Social Media in the Enterprise,” sparked a comment that became a worldwide trending topic at 2:00 AM on Tuesday, March 27. 

Last Wednesday, the online chat #CMGRChat, moderated by Kelly Lux, iSchool Social Media Strategist and Jenn Pedde, an SU alumna, was second-to-the-top in worldwide trends. #CMGRchat discusses issues in online community management and social media communities.

For Ben, the Twitter spiral began when University Union at Syracuse University announced additional band lineups for the annual SU Block Party. That’s when student reaction – and a tweet inundation — ensued. Ben thought out loud and online about a range of activities he’d prefer to do than attend the event, given the musical selections announced. In Twitter-style humor, he invited others to add their comments at the hashtag, #ThingsIdRatherDoThanGoToBlockParty. 

As viral things go, an avalanche of tweets turned Ben’s comment into much more — a meme – plus an entrepreneurial opportunity for him and a teachable moment for his classmates. 

Memes occur in real time as community conversations about a common experience. They spread quickly and build momentum when others add to the format of the joke, according to iSchool Assistant Professor of Practice Anthony Rotolo, who teaches social media.  “Memes usually tap into the common experience people are having—it’s kind of like a group therapy session that is meant to be comical, and the humor is specific to the community,” Rotolo explained. “It’s interesting to see that a meme that was created by a student can so quickly become a trending topic on Twitter,” he said, noting how the viral conversation has drawn the attention of, and is being tweeted about by some of today’s influential social media practitioners. 

The attention of the trending topic caused further chain reactions:

•    An Information Space blog post describing the rend was posted by student Anne Marie Suchanek

•    A Storify illustration of the tweet chain was created by classmate Brad Slavin

•    And a website dedicated to “other things to do,” that attracted more attention, receiving 50,000 hits over the next several hours.

“Those are the kind of moments you capitalize on, that can turn into entrepreneurial moments,” Rotolo explained. “That’s why it’s great that the iSchool not only teaches about social media, but also emphasizes entrepreneurship. You can be entrepreneurial in real time, and that’s what this is illustrating.”

iSchool Social Media Strategist Lux sees the trending statistics as an example of how deeply engaged today’s students are with social media—and through social media, with each other as a student community. “Every semester, we’ve seen our students become more involved in social media, especially on Twitter. They really have formed a community around Syracuse that enables these things to take off once they get started,” she observed.

As news of the trending topic began to stream out through social channels, the hashtag’s popularity started to be covered in other outlets, including and SU’s Daily Orange.

Ben continues to respond to what he started. Earlier in the day, as if to explain himself and the reaction the Twitter path that ensued, Ben tweeted, “That whole hashtag thing was a solid 1.5 hour distraction to this paper I should be writing…” But then you could see his broad smile, even if it was expressed in just 140 characters. Responding to a question asking if it was he who started the whole hashtag thing, all Ben could say was, “Haha, one of my proudest moments as a Twitter user!”