In what became known as the "tweet heard 'round the world," Atlanta-based fast food chain, Arby's, slayed the 55th annual Grammys in January 2014 with a friendly jab at Pharrell's hat.
Nearly 60K favorites and 80K shares later, Arby's successfully capitalized on their social media triumph for a full year after this famous tweet went viral, thus proving the importance of digital marketing to traditionalists.
Last week, we talked about Pokemon Go's unexpected victory, and how the game has managed to thrive amid the pandemonium. We thought: if there are rules for going viral, surely there are rules for the viral aftermath.
Josh Martin, Arby's Director of Digital and Social Media, told us that the first lesson he learned after his memorable tweet is that it's okay to sit back, relax, and basque in the glory of going viral instead of crafting an immediate response.
"We didn't panic or have a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "I think what gets a lot of brands into trouble is following up a big viral moment with something that falls flat. You can do yourself a disservice trying to one up yourself as it's happening – we sat back and watched it evolve and let people react to it."
As one of the first big viral moments of 2014, Arby's discussed how they could leverage this soon-to-be iconic tweet, but the brand was very careful about not overdoing it, or worse, doing something that felt forced.
Pharrell then tweeted back to Arby’s that night:
The way Martin saw it, they didn't want top two great jokes with a bad joke and let all the air out of the room. While agencies, social media experts, and folks at Twitter attempted to coach Arby's to help them keep up momentum, Martin and his team decided that the best thing to do at that moment was to ignore the outsiders, "drop the mic," and let the viral post run its course.
"Lo and behold, two weeks later, Pharrell tweeted back to us and put that hat up for auction on eBay," said Martin. "And he started that, not us – it wasn't like we went after it and bought the hat. The opportunity came to us and we were able to capitalize on it."
This small exchange put Arby's back on the map, making them cool and relevant again. By letting the Twitter exchange stand on its own, they wound up catching lightning in a bottle, and rode the media coverage for an entire year. Now, when Arby's takes big, digital swings, they get noticed.
"We talk about that moment as one that catapulted our social media and digital department," Martin said. "We've become the brand that's able to, for whatever reason, kill it with the one-off stuff, like with Jon Stewart."
There's no real "blueprint" for brands to handle the onslaught of attention that a viral post, game, product, or piece of content garners – your best bet is to hold on tight, be prepared to turn on a dime, and surround yourself with digital marketers and strategists who can make smart, quick decisions. Ultimately, going viral can be chalked up to "right place, right time," and there’s little you can do to control it.
"When it happens to you, you know it's happening. You try to learn from other brands and what they've done in those viral moments, but every situation is different," said Martin. "Some would say it's luck, but you make your own luck by being prepared and ready for that moment to happen."
Martin's advice? Enjoy it, be prepared, don't feel like you have one up yourself, and don't be afraid to "mic drop" and let it be a great viral moment.
"Once you have that moment, that's it, nobody will take it away from you," he said.