When It’s Your Time—And Your Authority Goes Viral

  • Category: Tribe Building

Over the past week, Americans (and it turns out a large swath of the rest of the world) held our breath waiting on election results as they oh-so-slowly trickled in.

But on MSNBC, one man turned the complex stats and charts on his Big Board into a fascinating dance that you couldn’t stop watching.

Steve Kornacki.

Or, as Vogue christened him: Twitter’s boyfriend.

While this is my first experience with Kornacki (once the hubby got me watching, I couldn’t stop), a little digging uncovered his almost textbook rise from expert to authority.

He appears to have been deeply fascinated with his topic—politics—for most of his career. In 2018, he published (remember, publishing is a clear marker of authority) The Red and The Blue: The 1990’s and the Birth of Political Tribalism.

Sure, as an on-air media employee, he commands a larger platform than most, but he’s a quant guy in a sea of strategy wonks.

Down side: staying relevant when elections aren’t front burner news.

Up side: being the only guy with deep expertise when national elections hit every two years.

Regardless, Kornacki appeared 100% ready for his viral moment.

And the moves that worked for him can work for you, so when your moment arrives you too can ride the wave.

Position yourself in your genius zone. No matter what questions the anchors threw at him—and there were some pretty obscure ones—Kornacki was on it.

He had a command of the percentages needed by county (I looked it up—the U.S. has 3,141 counties) to swing the outcome either way and spoke to it with ease on the fly.

He would scribble the latest results—especially when Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania were in play—on the Big Board and show the audience what that particular batch of votes meant to the overall result.

This was his Olympics—his chance to put all his training, research and years of preparation in service to his big idea: how data (voting patterns, surveys, etc.) impacts an election.

This is also where I believe the “secret” of his viral appeal begins: the joy with which he commanded the Big Board.

We underestimate the audience impact of witnessing sheer joy when an authority is in the midst of their greatest challenge. It calls to us on an almost primal level.

At one point, I heard him complain that he shouldn’t have taken a brief nap because he missed a couple developments and had to catch up—who on the path to authority can’t relate to that?

Lay the groundwork well in advance. He published his book in 2018 (which was also a national election year) and while he doesn’t appear to do much outside writing these days, he’s published plenty under some big banners: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Boston Globe amongst others.

But with a multi-day 24/7 news cycle—he needed to attend to some logistics as well. I suspect he worked on managing his sleep schedule and stamina in addition to making sure he had clean shirts at the ready (Twitter was rife with speculation about his brand of khakis: Gap, straight-fit Modern Khaki).

If he was running a business instead of acting as an employee, he probably would have lined up a media rep to field interview requests and an assistant to handle his calendar.

He’d have at least headlines of the future articles he wanted to write and a well-structured social media plan (with someone to delegate it to) to keep the momentum moving. He’d probably already be thinking “book deal”.

At the end of the day, you can’t control when or how your work goes viral.

What you CAN do is be ready for your turn at the fire hose.