The power of Bieber: a case study

This is the story of a lovely, simple story by Postmedia’s Misty Harris about a 71-year-old grandfather suffering from advanced prostate cancer.

Peter Johngren,  found a YouTube video of Justin Bieber performing for U.S. President Barack Obama during his chemotherapy treatments.

In her piece Bieber beats the blues: Grandfather finds hope in cancer fight as a Belieber, Misty writes:

In the years since, Bieber’s music has become a soundtrack of hope for the retired medical doctor and grandfather, whose collection of fan paraphernalia is as impressive as his spirit.

This is also a story about how this lovely, simple story exploded today – a day after  it was originally posted – when the Biebs himself thrust it into the spotlight.

It’s part of my job to stay on top of our trending stories, and see what people are reading, sharing and commenting on.

Around 12.50 p.m. Thursday, I noticed that Harris’ story on ‘Senior Biebs’ going crazy on Chartbeat, the third-party monitoring system we use. It came out of nowhere:

This graph shows the spike of the Bieber story in 20-minute increments.

What this graph also showed was at that moment, 77 per cent of these ‘new visitors’ to the story were from social media.

It’s the Bieber Tweeps, I figured, so I took advantage of this knowledge and Tweeted the story and Facebooked it. (Yes, I know the story was technically a day old, but it was a soft feature that could stand for a little longer).

I mentioned it in the afternoon story meeting, and asked the folks who slotted our paper if it had run in print on Thursday. It hadn’t. Might be a good contender for Friday’s paper, I suggested.

I was mystified. Why was a soft feature story about a grandfather suffering from advanced prostate cancer and conceivably a bigger case of Bieber Fever doing so well.

And then someone pointed this out:

Oh baby, baby, baby.. Oh! Justin Bieber himself had spotted our story, and at 11.48 a.m., (note: I’m not sure which time zone he was in, I suspect it was at 12.48) he had tweeted it to his 24,448,732  followers. His tweet was RT’ed 13,954 times, and favourited by 5,323 of his followers.

This also explained the insane sharing numbers I was seeing on this story – 692 recommends on Facebook, and by 8 p.m. it was tweeted from our site 13,800 times.

I don’t believe this means we should run a flood of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber stories on our site, chasing page views a la Gawker. I would rather build a relationship with our readers, and have them coming back to us because they feel they are a part of a community.

But the Bieber story is an interesting case study illustrating how social media and sharing can affect a story’s performance.

Did we see an unusual spike on our site this afternoon on a bit of a slow news day? You bet.

Do we have Justin Bieber to thank?

Oh baby.

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