Lessons from the nuggets tweet heard ’round the world

There’s no exact equation to make a tweet go viral, but brand managers can divine insights from a teen’s request—and Wendy’s answer.

What started as teenager Carter Wilkerson’s quest for free nuggets has turned into the newest viral sensation.

“Step Aside, Ellen DeGeneres: The New Retweet Champion Is a Nugget-Hungry Teenager,” reads the headline of a recent article in The New York Times.

In just over a month, Wilkerson grabbed more than 3.5 million retweets on his plea for a supply of Wendy’s chicken nuggets—beating out Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie, which has more than 3.4 million retweets:

Wendy’s quickly changed its tune when Wilkerson’s tweet started to go viral, shifting its focus from 18 million to breaking DeGeneres’ record.

The Verge reported:

Since the tweet went viral, Wilkerson has pivoted his objective a bit — promising that once the record is broken, Wendy’s will donate $100,000 to The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Wendy’s also confirmed that the teen will get his nuggets, though it didn’t specify how many pieces he’ll be allotted per day. For the amount of press the company got though, complying with Wilkerson’s nuggets demand sounds like a bargain.

On Tuesday, Wendy’s tweeted that Wilkerson would get his nuggets that and the charity—begun by and named for the chain’s founder, himself an adoptee—would receive its donation:

The Times’ Daniel Victor wrote:

Asking why a tweet goes viral is like asking why your life has brought you to this very moment. Perhaps it’s random, perhaps it’s divine, perhaps it’s unknowable. No mere human, no Kardashian nor YouTube star, can decide. When some 140 characters run aground while seemingly equal tweets are hoisted to the heavens, anyone searching for meaning should expect a long, long voyage.

Though there’s no formula for a viral tweet, there are a couple of lessons that PR and marketing pros can derive from the phenomenon:


1. Know what’s hot—and how to leverage it.

After Wilkerson’s tweet started gaining traction, DeGeneres tweeted the following:

She later had Wilkerson on her show as a guest and encouraged viewers who retweeted him to also retweet the Oscar selfie:

She also pinned the selfie tweet to her profile to increase views:

The tactic didn’t work, and Wilkerson’s plea for free nuggets has ousted DeGeneres from the coveted top tweet record.

However, the TV host has more than 67.6 million followers on Twitter, and the account’s individual tweets regularly get hundreds of retweets and thousands of “likes.” Though DeGeneres encouraged viewers to keep her tweet on top, the host understands what’s hot—as well as how she can best benefit from it. By having Wilkerson on her show—as she does with many social media sensations—she hijacked a bit of the viral buzz surrounding the situation.

PR and marketing pros should remember that they’re not always going to be on top. Keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest thing to capture consumers’ attention can give you far more information—and opportunities—to engage with them, rather than continuing to beat the drum about how awesome you are.

2. Newsjack carefully.

United tried to piggyback off Wendy’s social media success for some good PR of its own:

The move might have given the brand a boost, but the airline was already receiving backlash for refusing to allow two girls wearing leggings to board a flight—and soon after its initial tweet, it faced even bigger backlash when airport security officials dragged a passenger off its flight.

On Wednesday, United decided to make good on its promise of a free flight:

Instead of building back trust, though, the move handed the airline’s social media team an onslaught of criticism and ridicule from Twitter users:

Though some social media teams have won digital kudos and headlines with online antics, many brand managers have tried—and failed—to gain consumers’ favor with attempts to enter conversations that weren’t relevant to their brands.

Riding on the coattails of a viral sensation is tricky. Don’t attempt to surf unless you’re aware of how stormy the digital sea can be—and make sure your surfboard (i.e., your brand identity) is sturdy enough to withstand it.

What additional lessons have you gleaned from this social media hit, PR Daily readers?

(Image by theimpulsivebuy, via)


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