South Wales found itself at the centre of two unrelated social media phenomena last week.
Firstly, Cardiff Lib-Dem councillor John Dixon was reported to be facing a disciplinary hearing because of a Tweet he had posted over a year ago.
Then, a low-budget music video about the city of Newport went viral, with initially local Tweets and Facebook updates eventually spreading throughout the UK and the world.
We’re not going to recount these developments at length. For Dixon have a look at the BBC report here
What’s significant in the Dixon case (and let us declare an interest here – we’ve known him for many years and have expressed support for him in this) is how an amusing throwaway remark, which without social media would have got no further than a handful of friends, in fact became a public document – ultimately reaching more people than any of Dixon’s pronouncements in the council chamber or at party rallies.
And, how Twitter in particular became the rallying point for support – including from comedians and other Twitterati – and the creation of the now famous hashtag #stupidscientology
Just as a local councillor was becoming a media celebrity – mainstream media, of course, seized on this social phenomenon, culminating in a Newsnight appearance – so a song about the “small Welsh town” of Newport was similarly taking off in the social networks.
When we became aware of Newport State of Mind – a parody of the JayZ – Alicia Keys collaboration Empire State of Mind – it had a few hundred views on YouTube. We loved it and posted a Facebook link.
Hundreds, probably thousands, were doing the same around South Wales and well beyond, and when we looked back the views were over 100,000. Next day, when we saw a Tweet by Stephen Fry – then in China – describing the video as “cowing lush”, it was a case of getting ready for take-off.
Sure enough, at the weekend – just days after being uploaded – it had passed 1 million views. And this too became a mainstream media story, making the ITV News “and finally” slot among others.
So, the profile of Newport – which hosts this year’s Ryder Cup – has been raised at a rate the city council and Ryder Cup publicists could only have dreamed of.
But just as John Dixon probably didn’t want national (indeed global fame) as a Twitter critic of a religion, so the city fathers of Newport would hardly have chosen references to drink and drugs (and being sick in a taxi) to be included in any anthem to their borough.
However, it’s put the city on the map in a way which has put all the promotional expenditure in the shade. Indeed, the council’s leader celebrated it in a press release, describing the video as “witty, gritty, imaginative and creative”.
You can’t always choose how you achieve fame, and social media can thrust it upon you in the most surprising ways.