This story is a clear example of how social media works: community, timing, and authenticity.
This is the story of 16 year old Carter Wilkerson (@carterjwm), now the record holder for most retweets of all the time. It started with a single tweet by the chicken nuggets fan from Nevada when he’d tweeted Wendy’s account for free nuggets for the whole year.
And, Wendy’s twitter account is known to not shy away from engaging in any situation, often with smug replies. Wendy’s arsenal for staying on top of things online is Amy Brown, who manages the company’s social media and is known for her witty posts.
They took Carter up to the task.
The challenge: 18 million tweets
Whilst this is not the first time someone’s made a request like this with a brand, this particular tweet gained unprecedented support as the retweets came flooding in.
The retweets rose to the thousands within a week. In a short while media caught wind of the story and it led to a ripple effect, and the tweet went absolutely viral.
In a little more than a week, Carter Wilkerson was a social media celebrity. Interviews came flooding in, talk shows requested his appearance, people of all ages and backgrounds showed their support by hitting the retweet button. Carter even got himself a publicist and a website to go with the whole ‘campaign’.
Soon other people on Twitter were trying to emulate the Wilkerson “How many RT’S for (insert product)” to get brands and personalities to give them freebies, or special requests ranging from small favours to… not so small favours (how many RT’s for a free trip to space, anybody?).
Go ahead and do a search on, “How many RT’s for” on twitter to see the often hilarious requests being made now. Whilst he isn’t the first, you can thank Carter Wilkerson for making this fad a social media sensation.
Brands are looking to “lean in” and benefit from trends. Every good social media manager knows they ought to. Case(s) in point: United Airlines, for instance, tried to “jack” the trend by offering Carter free flights although that backfired. The airline, in the middle of a PR turmoil, got more backlash from social media with their offer. Also keen on riding the wave was T- Mobile when its CEO offered Carter free nuggets for a year and more if he’d switch to T-Mobile.
Ellen Degeneres, too, got nuggets-fever and featured the amusing campaign on her show and got good publicity for doing so. Carter’s retweet eventually surpassed the RT glory of Ellen’s celebrity selfie at the Oscars and eventually landed himself a guest spot on The Ellen Show.
What can we learn about brands leaning into social media trends? Is it safe for brands to just jump in throwing caution to the wind and take every bet wagered?
One thing is for certain, it pays to be prepared for when the next trend undoubtedly emerges.
Brands benefit from jumping on a trend earlier rather than later. Showing up early makes you appear more authentic- although not exactly (we did say it was already trending, right?)- and on the ball.
It is also great and good to follow “social cues”, that is, if the rest of twitter is supporting or buzzing over a movement. Listen to where the audience is coming from, which side they are on and lean in to that. Be careful not to try and outright rob the spotlight (like United did to outshine Wendy’s). People want brands they feel are trustworthy and transparent and pulling a fast one is highly likely to escape the discerning (millions of pairs of) eyes on social media.
And, the internet never forgets.