Retweets and homeruns: How one sports writer went viral on Twitter

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By Lucy Brock

Ellen DeGeneres’s famous Oscars selfie. Harry Styles throwing shade at Taylor Swift. Kobe Bryant’s retirement letter.

Tweets share memories, videos, links and witty remarks in 140 characters or less. But sometimes, those tweets are more popular than the tweeter could have ever imagined.

Joey Hayden, an SMU alum, is the digital sports producer for The Dallas Morning News. He has a little more than 1,800 followers on Twitter and around 6,150 tweets of hilarious sports GIFs and infographics.

One of his GIFs in particular recently received more attention than he could have expected.

The tweet? A simple, 11-word tweet and corresponding GIF to remember Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez after his death on Sept. 25.

The GIF highlights a dugout celebration from Fernandez, and Hayden’s tweet says “Love something in your life the way Jose Fernandez loved baseball… #RIP”.

So far, the tweet has received more than 25,800 retweets and 34,000 likes on Twitter.

“It got off to a similar start to any of my tweets that do well, maybe 20 retweets in five to ten minutes,” Hayden said. “Then some girl with around ten thousand followers retweeted it, and that’s where it started to take off.”

Half an hour and a few hundred retweets later, the tweet officially went viral.

After retweets from a few baseball writers, Hayden’s GIF gained the attention of the Dan Le Batard Show and Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich. The retweet count soon reached the thousands.

“I’m still periodically getting notifications from the tweet today, but there was a constant stream of retweets, likes, quote tweets and follows for the next 72 hours,” Hayden said. “So my Twitter was kind of busy for a few days as I rode that out.”

This kind of tweet activity is definitely abnormal for Hayden. While his tweets are popular and funny, none of them have gained this type of national attention.

What made this one tweet different from the rest?

“It did so well because it was simple,” Hayden said. “I think it encompassed a message of support that helped people’s grieving process as much as a tweet could.”

Baseball is something that Hayden has always been passionate about, so this tweet was important to him before it was even posted.

“The Jose Fernandez news hit me pretty hard,” he said. “It was hard to put the right words into 140 characters to describe such a shining personality like his. It actually took me five or ten minutes of just staring at my screen to craft an eleven-word tweet and a hashtag.”

If you follow Hayden’s model, here is how to go viral on Twitter:

1. Make it simple

2. Make it relevant and timely

3. Write about something you care about

4. Get retweeted by accounts with a lot of followers

Going viral takes a lot of luck, too. And Hayden’s tweet happened to be in the right place at the right time for many Twitter users.

“It was just something that apparently a lot of people needed to see and read,” he said. “And that’s really why it took off.”

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