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Who Sent the "Yes We Can" Video Viral?

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 30 2010

A study by a Cal State-Long Beach political scientist finds that bloggers and the Obama campaign drove the remarkable spread of will.i.am's "Yes We Can" video, media coverage less so.

Writing in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics (who knew?), Cal State-Long Beach political scientist Kevin Wallsten releases his findings on what made the winter 2008 will.i.am video "Yes We Can," a well-produced and celebrity-filled 5-minute ode to Barack Obama and the meaning of his campaign, such an enormous hit that it pulled in some 5.4 million YouTube views in its first month.

With the caveat that video virality is "complex and multidirectional," Wallsten finds, well, the chart up top.

Or, to use our words, Wallsten found that the Obama presidential campaign itself played a major role in generating views for the "Yes We Can" video by deeming it worthy -- posting it to their official campaign blogs and including it in pre-Super Tuesday emails sent by Michelle Obama. He writes that "Internet users, bloggers, and journalists seem to have taken" the campaign's attention to a video it itself hadn't made "as a cue that the video was something worth paying attention to."

Bloggers, too, drove interest in the video. "[B]log discussion," writes Wallsten, "exerted a significant impact on both the number of people who watched the video and the amount of media coverage the video received."

Less influential was your more traditional press. Wallsten found that "although journalists covered 'Yes We Can' extensively during its first month online, there is no evidence that media reports contributed to the video going viral."

The full 20-page study is here.