Panhandler’s Viral Hit Is ‘Dragonfly Effect,’ Not a Fluke

If you think the YouTube-catapulted rise of Ted Williams—the now-famous homeless man with the “golden voice”—is a fluke, you should read The Dragonfly Effect, by author-couple Andy Smith and Jennifer Aaker.

The book is a must read for anybody interested in using social media to drive social change. It’s full of big strategies, small tips, and real-life success stories proving you don’t need money or power to inspire seismic change in a Web 2.0 world. All you need is motivation, a good wireless connection, and an understanding of social media and psychological insights.

The William’s video, as originally posted by the YouTube user identified only as “Ritchey” on Monday, is a perfect example of a “Dragonfly Effect” communications piece (the same principles would hold true for an e-mail, tweet, blog post, Facebook update, etc.).

When “Ritchey” wrote, “Throwing this video from The Columbus Dispatch out there, hoping we can find this talent a place to call home,” he framed the video perfectly to focus viewers on a concrete goal–helping out a talented homeless man. The video itself did the rest:

  • Grab your attention with something unexpected: a panhandler with the “God-given gift of a great voice”
  • Engage your empathy when Williams says, “God bless you” for receiving a dollar, tells his story about drug and alcohol addictions, and shares his hope for a new start
  • Make you feel good and useful to share his story and forward the video

That’s the “Dragonfly Effect” formula for success—Focus, Grab Attention, Engage, Take Action—while connecting people with tangible meaning and joy (and without provoking paralysis about the depressing scale of the problem at hand).

It’s hard to say whether “Ritchey” knew about the “Dragonfly Effect” formula when he or she posted the video on YouTube. It is certain, however, The Columbus Dispatch doesn’t know about it and the video was strengthened when the newspaper lost control of it (there’s an excellent post on The Columbus Dispatch’s lack of social media savvy on the prTini blog, including great recommendations for traditional media outlets to protect their content while still capturing online attention).

Just as the “Dragonfly Effect” formula was designed to do, “Ritchey’s’ small act (which completed the formula and went beyond reposting a great video without a clear call to action) had a ripple effect, leading to significant and rapid change. Watch the video below to see Williams recording a new KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese ad, one of the many jobs he has been offered this week.

What do you think about the “Dragonfly Effect” and this video? Do you think “Ritchley’s” addition made any difference? Please share your ideas below.

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About Monica

Monica specializes in strategic communications, web and new media, and print materials with an international or multi-cultural context. She has worked on national public outreach campaigns targeting multi-cultural audiences and has conceptualized, written, and/or designed multiple websites. Monica also has written, edited, and/or designed high-profile newsletters, brochures, and reports, including some prepared in collaboration with the White House. She holds a bachelor’s in journalism and a master of international service with a focus on international communication. Monica is based in Washington, D.C.


  1. Cool!

  2. Nice analysis!

  3. Well, I’ve seen this guy on YouTube, and he’s got a really excellent voice. At frst I thought it’s a scam, but after seeing him on TV I realised that it’s all true.

    And thanks for your post. The ideas will be very useful to me, as I need to start some viral campaign for my charity fundraising.