For many brands there is a lingering, unanswerable question of how to make something go viral. While there isn’t a formula for this phenomenon, it can and does happen from time-to-time. And when you’re suddenly the center of attention, it’s important to be poised and ready to participate in the conversation and become a brand everyone can love. That’s where you can have some control of the outcome.
Here are two great examples of brands taking advantage of their viral spotlight and becoming brand champions along the way.
Meet 16-year-old Carter Wilkerson, who is described by his father as a shy kid. He engaged Wendy’s in a public conversation by tweeting, “Yo, @Wendys how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?"
Wendy’s, who has built a reputation of having a witty and sarcastic voice on social media, responded with, “18 million.” Carter replied, “Consider it done.” Carter then tweeted an image of their conversation with the caption, “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGS.” At that point Carter had fewer than 1k followers, which made his challenge seem impossible.
Not for Twitter. Everyone loves cheering for an underdog. It only took five days for Carter’s tweet to be the 3rd highest-ranking retweet. And HOT OFF THE PRESSES!, his tweet has officially taken over the 1st place spot held by Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie in 2014. With 3.5 million (and counting!) retweets, Carter’s tweet is on top of the world and gaining momentum every day.
Celebrities have even joined the challenge. Actor Aaron Paul, One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, and brands like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Universal Studios, and Apple Music have all retweeted Carter’s plea.
As of today, Carter has roughly 109k Twitter followers, and now has a website where he is selling #NuggsForCarter merchandise. Local and national news channels have covered the story. There was a huge spike in coverage when Carter was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. And Ellen sparked some friendly competition to try to keep her first-place ranking. She is encouraging people to retweet both tweets.
Carter and Wendy’s were both determined to see Carter’s tweet beat Ellen’s and meet the goal of 18 million retweets. Wendy’s even announced that if Carter’s tweet surpassed Ellen’s, they will donate $100k to The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Wendy’s has been rolling with the momentum that Carter’s tweet has created. They responded right away to Carter’s original tweet and continue to comment, talk to fans, and share the progress on their handle. They were supportive of Carter reaching his goal – and why wouldn’t they be? The average Twitter user has 208 followers with roughly 41 impressions per post. So when Carter’s tweet reached 2.3 million retweets, it gained about 94 million impressions. This doesn’t including media coverage, other social posts, or any spin off content published by sites like Buzzfeed and Mashable.
The lifespan of this content is unpredictable. Even if Carter never reaches his goal of 18 million tweets, Wendy’s will be at the heart of the story of an average teenager who had one of the highest-ranking retweets of its time.
YouTube is another great source of viral content – and the spot where another similar story played out. In November 2015, the James Wright Chanel published a video of his excitement and love for Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie at Walmart. Within less than a week his video had been viewed 2.8 million times and Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pies at Walmart were flying off the shelves.
Mitchell partnered with Walmart to leverage the social media buzz around the Patti LaBelle Pies, including launching in-store celebrations when the pies were restocked, an appearance from Patti LaBelle herself, and coordinating pies to be dropped off at national and local media station across the country.
The moral of the story is to recognize opportunity when you see it. Often, viral content like #NuggsForCarter and #PattiPie can't be manufactured -- but brands and agency partners can be ready for the next sensation by engaging with their audiences and jumping into the conversation at the right time. These examples truly prove the power of social media influence. Now go find the next one!
UPDATE: Wendy's has given Carter a year's worth of nuggs, along with a $100,000 donation toward his non-profit foundation supporting children in foster care. Carter's tweet has taken the #1 spot for the most retweets in history. Wendy's sure knows how to come through in a big way for a good cause!