What does it take to create a viral tweet? If there was an obvious answer to this question then someone could no doubt make a fortune. Recent developments haven’t made this any clearer – back in April this year a 16-year-old boy from Nevada posted a tweet that has recently become the most retweeted of all time. And it was about chicken nuggets.

You might be wondering what clever words or pithy phrases Carter Wilkerson from Nevada used to attract such attention. Well, the content of the tweet read “Yo @Wendys how many retweets for a year or free chicken nuggets?” To which Wendys replied “18 MILLION.” Carter then took a screenshot of the tweet exchange and posted it as a new tweet with the title “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS.” And that’s pretty much it. That’s all it took to create the most retweeted tweet of all time.

If that makes the whole thing sound rather easy it’s worth noting that the tweet knocked into second place by Carter was Ellen DeGeneres’ 2014 Oscars selfie. That, of course, featured some of the most famous faces in the world, from Julia Roberts, to Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Spacey. Now, the popularity of that tweet is more understandable – a globally watched event, an informal shot of some very famous people all in the one photo. No wonder so many people want that on their profiles. So, what was it about Carter’s tweet that made it so very popular?

There are some who have pointed out that the fact that a tweet begging for fast food could overtake one so rich in cultural relevance is a sign of how dumbed down society has become – or perhaps that Twitter is entirely full of kids. However, it’s interesting to note that the tweet spread in popularity via a variety of means, including former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, popstrel Zara Larsson and a lot of corporate Twitter users trying to get a piece of the viral action. It also had a number of components that could account for its success, some of which are transferrable even if you’re not a 16 year old with a thing for fast food:

  • It was direct – no unambiguous messaging, no messing around.
  • It was personable – no overly formal language or contrived wording, just an honest, open plea that could be easily understood.
  • It was funny – Twitter loves cheek and humour and this tweet was as cheeky as they come.
  • It was a David vs. Goliath moment – how many of the retweets came from a place of wanting to see the little guy win?
  • It was easy to understand – all that was required was a retweet.
  • It provided a new perspective – there’s something so refreshing about just asking for what you want.

Importantly, it also tapped into this shared sense of community that is Twitter at its best. And Carter – unusually – has used his newfound fame to engineer donations to charities and set up a website selling T-shirts for charitable causes (bearing the slogan #nuggsforcarter of course). So perhaps the success of the tweet isn’t such a damning reflection on our society as some would have us believe. It doesn’t solve the puzzle of how to go viral though. But then neither does the third most retweeted tweet of all time – a message from Louis Tomlinson of One Direction to band mate Harry Styles: “Always in my heart @Harry_Styles . Yours sincerely, Louis.” The mystery continues.