The Story of Penn State’s Student Squirrel Whisperer: ‘From Stupid Blog to World Sensation’

Early last month, Onward State featured Mary Krupa, a Penn State University freshman “best known for playing with squirrels, while also donning them with tiny-squirrel sized hats.”  PSU’s premier online independent outlet dubbed Krupa nothing less than a full-blown “squirrel whisperer.”

In the post by Maggie McGlinchy, Krupa is described with “squirrels . . . climbing on her, sitting on her forearm, and generally gathering around her.”  She even has a favorite: Sneezy The Penn State Squirrel (who has a Facebook page).

At present, roughly 45 days after Onward State’s initial post, Krupa has evolved from a “mini-web phenomenon” to a full-blown “world sensation.”  On today’s interwebs, how does a squirrel whisperer go viral?

In a fascinating new post, OS senior content producer Ryan Kristobak offers a step-by-step glimpse into Krupa’s sudden, circuitous journey to digital stardom.

The path, whittled down to platforms and one performer: Onward State, Mashable, Yahoo! News, Penn State Network, two Taiwanese outlets, BuzzFeed, something called Neatorama, and Pee-wee Herman.  And most recently, as Kristobak noted, “Tosh.0′s blog raved about squirrels and hats in that typical, condescending, a**hole Tosh fashion.”

From my perspective, the five elements leading to the post’s instant, ginormous virality:

1) Krupa’s extreme, not immediately understandable behavior– leading to gaper delays among headline scanners and social media sharers.

2) Standout nickname (“squirrel whisperer”) on par with Johnny Football– perfect for branding.

3) Memorable, funny visuals.

4) Its lighthearted, personal tone– easy to take in and expressing the sarcasm-cum-disbelief most readers are experiencing.

5) Onward State’s entrenched awesomeness– ensuring its content is scanned and seen as trustworthy and worthy of sharing by major outlets.

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