What do cheesecake, WCCO's Jason DeRusha, and Zubaz have in common? A lot, on Twitter and Facebook.
At 9:18 a.m. last Thursday, DeRusha kicks off a thread on Twitter and Facebook related to his nightly "Good Question" segment on WCCO's 10 p.m. newscast: "It's National Cheesecake Day. How do you get a 'day' anyway? Good Question at 10. (Anyone have power to declare DeRusha Day?)"
The question goes viral at 9:37 a.m. when a #DeRushaDay hash tag is posted on Twitter by Brian Westbrook. (Twitter users add hash tags to posts as a way of allowing followers to quickly navigate to a common thread of discussion.) Who is Westbrook? DeRusha has never met the guy, but figures out he's a radio and TV reporter in Portland, Oregon.
At 9:40 a.m. Marcus Leab answers DeRusha on Facebook: "It has to become a sensation. Take National Talk Like a Pirate Day. It was an inside joke...then they sent a letter to Dave Barry. He pushed it, and poof. It's international. It has to be marketed right and reach people. People love pirates. People love cheesecake. Get your friends to declare a DeRusha day and make it viral...and people will love you."
At this point, sitting in a board meeting for the regional Emmy Awards and watching his iPhone, DeRusha realizes the message has outrun the messenger. If board members noticed him hunched over the screen, he jokes, "they probably thought I was just taking good notes."
At 9:56 a.m., Perfect Porridge music blogger Greg Swan updates his Twitter page with a link to his new Jason DeRusha Day poster on Flickr, in which DeRusha is wearing a jacket, tie, and Zubaz. Yes, Zubaz. Swan tracked down the image from a story DeRusha worked on in December 2007 about the resurgence of the Minnesota-based maker of the infamous baggy britches.
Like Westbrook, Swan doesn't know DeRusha. But, "Within minutes of seeing @bmw post about #derushaday on Twitter, I made the official DeRusha Day poster, tagged it on Flickr, tweeted the link, and encouraged folks to print it off and share to help stoke the fire," he says via email. "It was fun to watch the photos come in, particularly from people I don't know at all, and plain hilarious to see Jason use it throughout his Good Question broadcast segment."
Why did he jump in? To "feed the virus," he says.
"Between his Twitter following, his daily Desk News webcam updates, and his penchant for adding new media value to his reporting, it's safe to say very few —if any—broadcast reporters are leveraging new media's storytelling potential like DeRusha," Swan says. "I love the ease of adding value to social-media-savvy reporters' stories, even if it's just goofing around about National Cheesecake Day. What's great about spreading news and information through social media is the immediacy of pass-along, feedback, and opportunity to change in midstream. You just have to be flexible and be prepared to feed the virus if it starts growing."
Westbrook tweets a few hours later: "Happy to see #DeRushaDay gaining momentum. See, Jason, power of the masses at work. ;-)."
Mayor R.T. Rybak's spokesman Jeremy Hanson chimes in on Twitter at 1:59 p.m. "Nice campaign," he says. "Isn't every day DeRusha Day?"
Later, at 3:13 p.m. on DeRusha's Facebook page, Hanson asks, "I'd like to know why people think Jason deserves his own day, cuz it won't be for the Zubaz."
DeRusha takes the bait, with tongue planted firmly in cheek: "1. Patron of the arts (former judge at Uptown Art Fair, auction contributor). 2. Informing the public (all I do is give, and take good questions). 3. Active supporter of local business (keeping several Minneapolis restaurants open for biz). 4. Social media pioneer. 5. Paragon of modesty. 6. Co-chair of galas for YMCA, People Serving People, Rise, Inc. That's something, right? 7. Zubaz."
At 3:25 p.m., DeRusha discovers an online petition created by Twin Cities editor and writer Max Sparber. By 4:39 p.m. there's an official Jason DeRusha Day website created by Minneapolis graphic designer Dusty Fields, including the poster and a link to the petition.
"I don't know Jason personally," Fields says. "When I heard about Jason DeRusha Day that morning, I immediately wanted to contribute to the hype by whipping up a website. I also totally support another day that gives me an excuse not to work!"
Meanwhile, DeRusha decides to file official paperwork online to get his own day, since a whole lot of people he'd never actually met were getting behind the effort. Later, officials at the mayor's office tell him "it could be a while" before judgment is passed.
"The government doesn't move as fast as a hash tag," DeRusha laughs. "But I'm nothing if not understanding."
In the story for WCCO that evening, Hanson tells DeRusha, "Proclamations are issued for civic celebrations, nonprofit organizations, and significant events with historical and/or unique importance to the citizens of Minneapolis, or individuals who have made a significant contribution to society. We do not issue proclamations that promote specific businesses or commercial products."
That leaves room for DeRusha Day.
"I love it. I think it's fantastic. I'm not a social-media guru, but over time I've built up a very large social network," DeRusha says, before deadpanning, "This is a case study about the power of personal brands, social media, and Zubaz."
Ah yes. The Zubaz.
Early Friday morning, the day after DeRusha's report airs, Tracy Perlman comments on DeRusha's Facebook page, "I was wondering...on DeRusha Day, do we have to wear Zubaz?"
More than 100 people have signed the petition so far.