Today’s Touch: Dufnering, and Why Things Go Viral

Rory McIlroy just couldn’t contain his excitement, telling Associated Press reporter Doug Ferguson: “it’s the best thing ever.”

“Everytime I looked at it, I laughed harder than the first time,” said Keegan Bradley to Ferguson.

“It” is the latest craze to hit the twitter-verse, inspired by  an unlikely source. The emotionally-static Jason Dufner.

First, there was “planking,” then there was “Tebowing,” and now there is “Dufnering” (see below for a selection of some of the best).

The stoic Dufner, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour who burst on the scene in 2011 by nearly winning the PGA Championship, was in a classroom in Irving, Texas when the teacher began talking about relaxation and concentration.

A local news reporter caught Dufner seated against a classroom wall, in a daze, and within hours it had been picked up by sports website Deadspin.

A legend was born.

Before long the image had gone viral, with many of the PGA Tour’s top golfers getting their hands on the photo and sharing it with their social networks.

One of the main instigators of the hype was Bradley, however tweets were flowing in from all around the world showing men, women, pets, and babies doing their best “Dufnering” impersonations.

Despite the men’s NCAA basketball tournament and the kick off to the 2013 MLB season dominating the sports landscape, “Dufnering” became an overnight sports & popular cultural phenomenon and was the No.1 trending topic on all of Twitter through Saturday.

But, how did something as innocent as a relaxed-looking Dufner become a world-wide trend?

Jonah Berger, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania just released a book entitled Contagious: Why Things Catch On and in it, he lists the six key steps to drive people to want to talk and to share.

The six steps that Berger calls a “framework of six principles for why things catch on” are: social currency, triggers, ease for emotion, public, practical value, and stories.

In the case of “Dufnering,” five of the six principles are prevalent, and this is what has led to it’s viral nature – of course, it doesn’t hurt that some of the most largely-followed Twitter users on the PGA Tour influenced the larger audience.

For example*:

Social Currency: All about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad.

Users would rather “make fun” of Dufner by imitating his photo than show themselves in a negative light (but as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).

Triggers: All about the idea of “top of mind, tip of the tongue.”

We talk about things that are at the forefront of our brains. For many, Spring is around the corner and that means The Masters, and the official kick-off to golf season.

Ease for Emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically arouse, the more likely we pass something on.

The “Dufnering” photo was funny, it was simple, and it held cross-generational appeal. It wasn’t a golf photo, it was a humorous photo (of a golfer).

Public: When we can see other people doing something. We’re more likely to imitate it.

This is the most prevalent of all the principles in the age of social media. Once one sees either an influencer or a friend sharing something to their network, they are more likely to do the same. In this case (along with many other social trends) it was quickly shared, because users saw the best golfers in the world doing it.

Stories:  How we share things are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.

All it took was for Dufner to go on the record to explain the background of why he appeared in the classroom looking the way he did, and arguably, his explanation made the whole trend even funnier.

The only one of the six principles that did not have a direct impact on the virality of Dufnering was practical value, which basically is the idea behind “news you can use” or the desire to share information for the purpose of helping others.

Like most social media trends, “Dufnering” likely will run it’s course in a short time frame. However, many of the world’s best golfers are already talking about “Dufnering” at the famed hallows of Augusta National in a couple of weeks at The Masters.

Hey, if the green coats finally allowed women to join their club, maybe they’ll be okay with “Dufnering” too.

Now that would be something worth sharing.

*Note: The descriptions of Jonah Berger’s six key principles for why things catch on (the STEPPS principle) is from “Contagious: Jonah Berger on Why Things Catch On” by Knowledge@Wharton, March 13 2013.

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