This column was written by guest contributor Lauren Begley Parker.
The juxtaposition of athletes and beautiful women goes back decades to when cheerleaders first outlined football fields and baseball diamonds at collegiate and professional events. In more recent years, however, there's been more attention given to women in the sporting world who aren't carrying pom-poms.
Last year, ESPN/ABC commentator Brent Musburger sparked a Twitter storm when he spotted Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron's flame, Katherine Webb, in the crowd during the BCS National Championship Game and commented (positively) on her appearance. And on Tuesday, 18-year-old Mallory Edens, the daughter of Milwaukee Bucks owner Wesley Edens, came into focus during the broadcast of the NBA draft lottery. While she was only on-air a short while, Twitter erupted with comments about her looks, her name became a national trending topic, and she gained thousands of followers despite not being particularly active on the platform.
Both instances were polarizing. Some saw the recognition the women received as harmless gossip. Others saw it as damaging female objectification.
Setting aside my thoughts on gender politics in sports, these examples offer a lesson in content marketing. It's nearly impossible to guess what will spark mass online sharing. The production team for the NBA was likely anticipating a huge amount of discussion online about the Cleveland Cavaliers receiving the No. 1 pick for the second straight year. Who could have guessed that an few random camera shots could change the whole trajectory of conversation around the draft?
There's been a concerted effort over the past few years to scientifically determine why certain content "goes viral." Broadly speaking, it boils down to content that sparks an emotional reaction, positive or negative. A cat playing the keyboard may make us laugh. Strangers kissing may make us uncomfortable. The face of a beautiful young woman in a sporting event setting largely populated by men clearly struck a chord (albeit a somewhat sleazy one).
Despite the research, it’s important to realize that you really can’t force viral content. Sometimes content that appears destined to become an instant social media sensation never gains any traction. Or in other instances, as Mallory Edens showed us, the vagaries of virality can cause even a well-organized national event like the NBA draft to become second fiddle to a brief, unintentional distraction.
Lauren Begley Parker is Senior Manager at Peppercomm. As founder of the Innovation Team and editor of The Innovation Mill, Lauren researches new and unconventional examples of smart thinking in business and leads creative and strategic brainstorming sessions for accounts across the agency. In 2011, she was named one of PR News's "Top 15 PR Professionals to Watch."