Timing made the HOPA hoax a win

Yesterday, the story of a young go-getter who quit her job via a series of dry-erase board messages due her boss’s sexual harassment burned up the internets.  The girl was dubbed “HOPA” (after her boss’s mistaken acronym for “hot piece of ass”) or “Jenny DryErase” by supportive Facebook followers and commenters.

Today, the story was revealed to be false.  Yet it is still an excellent career move for an aspiring actress and an aspiring comedy website – and illustrates the value of timing in capturing the short attention span of folks online.

The original post, on comedy site The Chive, was set up to go viral for a couple reasons.  First, the act of quitting a job and metaphorically burning the place on your way out Jerry Maguire-style isn’t completely out of left field; even doing it through a variety of emailed photos isn’t even that out there.  It’s her signs and her emotive facial expressions that makes the user laugh.  Second, and more important, the girl’s story works equally well if it’s true or not.  So it wasn’t unbelievable, and investing in the story didn’t mean believing it was true – creating a low barrier of entry.  The stage is set.

But as with all comedy, timing is everything.  The Chive struck gold by releasing the pictures on the same day that an airline steward became an international folk hero for leaving his job down the escape chute, a beer in each hand.  profanity-laced goodbye to his own job, so quitting was in the news.  They couldn’t control the news cycle, but it worked to their favor.

What they did right on their own, however, was debunk the story of HOPA girl the day after attention peaked.  Announcing the hoax in a month, or even in a week, would have meant reaching people well after they had forgotten the Jenny DryErase post and moved onto the next Hitler/Downfall parody.   In other words, it would have been irrelevant, and there would be no lasting benefit.

The real HOPA girl, actress Elyse Porterfield, has her name everywhere; people who might be in a position to help her career know now that she can pull off a pretty good photo shoot. The Chive has the added web traffic and the street cred with that comes with manipulating web audiences into taking a hoax viral.  Advertisers like sites that can, occasionally, draw big numbers for a few days.

The tactic of a fake viral picture isn’t really translatable to campaigns, which have to be somewhat transparent in their messaging.  But it is important to understand how fast online communications work.  Windows of opportunity aren’t open wide and they aren’t open for long.

Because I switched to WordPress, this will never apply to me

New York is investigating whether a blogger is considered self-employed or unemployed.  The decision hinges on the buck-per-day revenues she generated from Google ads on her blog.  When the former lawyer reported the revenue, the state launched an investigation into whether she still deserved unemployment benefits.

The site is still up, and the ads have been removed – which means New York’s Department of Labor succeeded in keeping a laid-off lawyer from experimenting with new revenue streams which could have lead to gainful self-employment.  Good job!

If I’d only known you could do this 8 years ago…

Trina Thompson is suing Monroe College in New York because her degree has not helped her find a job.  At first this sounds like a funny, silly story, but there’s a lot going on here.

Thompson’s complaints reek of self-delusion.  She calls out Monroe’s Office of Career Advancement, which gave her numerous job leads that didn’t pan out: “They favor more toward students that got a 4.0. They help them more out with the job placement,” says Thompson.  Right.  That’s why the graduates with 4.0 GPAs are getting more jobs than her and her respectable-but-not-perfect 2.7.

She goes on to say that other unemployed grads should take the same course of action: “It doesn’t make any sense: They went to school for four years, and then they come out working at McDonald’s and Payless. That’s not what they planned.”

If Thompson’s inability to understand her own predicament is heartbreaking – and it is – then the conditions which allow her current course of action are equally infuriating.  Thompson has not hired an attorney, and has filed a “poor person order” to be exempt from other fees associated with the lawsuit.  There’s no risk for her, but Monroe College has to spend valuable resources defending itself – resources that could make education better or cheaper for other students.  Not to mention that Thompson’s time might be better spent earning money at McDonald’s or Payless and looking for better employment than putting together a case which will likely (hopefully) be laughed out of court.   And the punchline is this: if you were hiring someone, and Googled their name, and you read that they were suing their college because they couldn’t find a job, would you hire them?  I wouldn’t.

Of course, maybe Thompson could solve that issue by suing the media.