The Rachel Sterne Papers


A month before the TEDxEast conference, Sterne wrote a piece for Publisher’s Weekly called “Creating Your Viral Loop on Twitter,” a nine-step how-to guide for digital self-promotion.

“There is a reason they call it viral marketing because the best social media functions like a virus,” Sterne began. “It spreads easily, embeds itself seamlessly into hosts and exploits a few critical individuals to achieve global exposure. It may sound terrifying, but you can control it. And if you do, you can reach thousands of people—and thousands of the exact people you want to reach.”

The advice Sterne offered followed her own personal strategy for self-promotion. Direction 3: “Pick your beat and stick to it. Become an expert and add value by tweeting tightly focused industry news and insights.” Direction 5: “Keep it positive. Studies have found that upbeat tweets are more likely to be retweeted, or repeated. Being positive also gives you a better brand identity.”

Adweek requested an interview with Sterne for this article and was asked by a press representative from New York City’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Chris Coffey, to first provide a list of topics about which she might be questioned. Most of the topics involved Sterne’s background. Coffey responded that Sterne would not be available for an interview because she was in the public sector now and not talking about her past experiences in the private sector.

In a statement sent to Adweek, Katherine Oliver, the city’s commissioner of the Office of Media and Entertainment and the woman who hired Sterne, said Sterne’s “extensive digital background, entrepreneurial savvy and passion for hard work made her the clear choice for this role.”

Her background may in fact have uniquely prepared her for her new role. Indeed, many of Sterne’s partisans have made her very lack of experience her primary virtue.

“I find criticism of her appointment to be sexist and reverse-ageist,” Jarvis, a founder of Daylife, and a ranking member of the city’s digerati, told Adweek. “Who are we going to have leading digital initiatives?...Digital America is led by young people.”

Sterne is, in a sense, an ideal young person for high government position—a young person old people like, projecting an earnest enthusiasm about the potential for social media to transform the way the world works in a simple way that neither alienates the old guard nor disrupts its sense of its own relevance.

Now she’s been given three months to write a report recommending how the city can enhance its digital operations, communications and public-private partnerships—and, in essence, to define her job. It would be hard to imagine that she will undersell its significance.