Taylor Swift effect: Zach Goudie's digital brush with the world's biggest pop star

As CBC's Zach Goudie writes, a single retweet from Taylor Swift can bring an astounding amount of traffic on Twitter.

A Twitter tale of one reporter's experience with the Swifties

Taylor Swift is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, and CBC's Zach Goudie says he couldn't believe the amount of Twitter traffic he gained after being retweeted by the singer. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

I've been using Twitter for more than five years now (not exactly an early adopter but I'm no newbie either). I nurtured my account from seed, patiently feeding it a daily diet of words and wit, pictures and videos, hashtags and humblebrags.

I lovingly watched @zachgoudie grow, both in followers and as a facet of my job and life. But this week, something happened. Something completely out of proportion to all my prior Twitter experiences. Something that set a new high-water mark in my digital career, a lofty height I will likely never crest again.

I got retweeted by Taylor Swift.

The story

It was early Thursday afternoon. I was checking my Twitter feed for the hundredth time that day (a normal day, in other words) when I saw something I had been looking forward to. Ryan Adams, famed indie rocker, had just released a cover of Taylor Swift's massive pop hit Bad Blood.

This summer, Adams set the music biz abuzz by announcing that he was re-recording Swift's chart-topping album 1989 in its entirety.

Adams has since been teasing the album on Twitter, periodically posting snippets of the songs, with Swift's synthy pop tunes reimagined as folk rock jams.

I'm a Ryan Adams fan, so I appreciate any chance to hear new music from him — but I also love the concept, which I read was a rebuke to people who reflexively dismiss pop music and pop musicians like Swift. I see the project as Adams' way of illustrating that a good song is a good song.

So when I saw that the first song from the album, Bad Blood, had been posted on Twitter, I clicked right away. While Adams sang Swift's words through my headphones, I casually typed this fateful tweet.

From then on, my afternoon got much busier, and I didn't check Twitter again until early that evening. When I took out my phone I saw a Twitter notification: "Your Tweet is getting more retweets than usual."

"That's nice," I thought. "How many retweets, I wonder. Ten, maybe 20?"

I looked closely. It was nearly a thousand.

My brow furrowed with confusion.

I frantically scrolled my Twitter notifications backwards to find where this frenzy of activity began. And there, at the beginning of the feed, with the very first retweet, I found the reigning queen of pop culture.

There are no words. Only letters.


A big tweeting deal

In my line of work, it is considered uncouth to be star-struck by the famous people one sometimes encounters. But I confess that my heart skipped a beat at the sight of a retweet from Taylor Swift.

There are no words. Only letters. O.M.G.- Zach Goudie

If you're not sold on Swift, I respect your opinion, but I long ago gave in to the siren's song. Her music is catchy and as well-crafted as her immaculate public image. It's also great fun, and life is too short to pass up the chance for fun. Swift is the cheer captain of my car radio.

There can be no debate about the enormous power Swift wields in social media. Her Twitter account is the fourth largest in the world, behind only Barack Obama, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

She has 63.6 million followers, many of whom describe themselves in their Twitter bios as Swift fans, first and foremost. Reams have been written about Swift's mastery of social media, including her penchant for posting personal messages and other digital treats for her followers.

On Thursday, I felt the power of Swift coursing through my phone.

The numbers

With a single touch of Swift's finger, the audience for my tweet increased by orders of magnitude. The effect can actually be seen in Twitter's analytics service.

One way to measure the success of a tweet is called impressions, which basically means that a tweet was seen by another person. My average tweet generates between 1,000 and 2,000 impressions. A good tweet, 5-10,000. My very best tweet, 20-30,000.

As of this writing, the tweet retweeted by Taylor Swift has generated more than a million impressions.

(Zach Goudie/CBC)

Lessons learned

It would be foolish to pretend there is some magic formula for creating a social media moment like this. Catching lightning in a bottle is a rare feat, as hard to explain as it is to replicate. That said, I feel the 'Swiftweet,' as I have taken to calling it, illustrates a few helpful truths about Twitter.

For one, when tweeting about somebody, it can be hugely helpful to include that person's Twitter handle so they are notified about your tweet.

Had I simply typed Taylor Swift instead of her Twitter handle, the pop princess would have remained blissfully unaware of my tiny tweet's existence.

This is especially important when expressing a critical opinion. To talk about another person on Twitter, and not include that person's Twitter username, is a form of sub-tweeting and is the social media equivalent of talking about someone behind their back.

 It made me smile; it was candy for the soul. I may have to add Swiftie to my own Twitter bio.- Zach Goudie

So not only can following this practice have positive consequences, not following it can have negative ones.

Secondly, the 'Swiftweet' illustrates the importance of being, well, swift. In this case, I got lucky and noticed the new song from Ryan Adams soon after it was posted.

If I had sent the same tweet 24 hours later, I guarantee that Swift would not have retweeted it.

In daily journalism, there is a truism: better to be quick than clever. There's no point in thinking up a killer headline for your story if doing so causes you to miss your deadline.

My tweet wasn't the cleverest, but because it was among the first to comment on Adams' new song, it stood out from the mountain of tweets that followed shortly thereafter.

Lastly, in saying that it wasn't the cleverest tweet, it was still pretty good (#humblebrag). Like any medium, there is a craft to writing for Twitter and shaping the tweets into a quality product.

In this case, the wording of the tweet is clear; it contains Swift and Adams usernames, a link to the newly published song, and a mildly-clever play on words, using lyrics from Swift's biggest hit. In 140 characters, that's hitting a lot of marks.

A Swiftie for life

Days after the 'Swiftweet,' I am still sneaking glances at my phone, watching as the tweet continues to ping pong through the Twittersphere, racking up ever more retweets and favourites.

In my career as a journalist I've had the privilege to be part of some truly meaningful stories that genuinely mattered to many people. Its those stories I'm most proud of, not these few lines that happened to be noticed by a celebrity.

But like a perfect pop song playing on your radio on a sunny summer day, being retweeted by Taylor Swift was something to be enjoyed. It made me smile; it was candy for the soul. I may have to add Swiftie to my own Twitter bio.

CBC's Zach Goudie says after being retweeted by Taylor Swift, he's considering adding 'Swiftie' to his personal Twitter bio. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

About the Author

Zach Goudie

Zach Goudie is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.


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