Welcome to 2017. The year in which the most retweeted tweet ever involves a teenager and chicken nuggets.

Surprised? Neither are we.

Carter Wilkerson, a 16-year-old high school junior from Reno, Nev., tweeted to popular fast-food chain Wendy's last month, asking how many retweets it would take for a year of free chicken nuggets.

Wendy's response: 18 million. Wilkerson is far from that but has reached 3.54 million retweets as of today, beating Ellen DeGeneres' Oscar selfie with a bunch of other Hollywood stars. Wendy's has obliged anyway, giving Wilkerson the free nuggets, and even used the opportunity for a charitable donation: $100,000 in Wilkerson’s name to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Really This Easy?

Is it crazy of us to think marketers can learn something from this? How sometimes marketers just need to dial it back and use super-easy tools like Twitter instead of staring at data all day? 

Marketers are the worriers of brand recognition. They should be its warriors. They agonize over MarTech tools, data, analytics, campaigns, targeting, personalization, content management, abandoned shopping carts, headless CMS, CMS with heads, mobile, social, omnichannel, customer experience, single views of customers.

Can it really be this easy? One organic tweet and tweet response?

I think it can, seeing what happened for our little nuggets fan here. Moreover, it's a reminder to intimately know your brand's voice, listen for opportunities and capitalize when necessary.

Here's the famous tweet:

Ignore the Hype

Not everyone thinks amazing marketing lessons can be learned from Carter Wilkerson.

Cappy Popp, founder and principal of Thought Labs, which provides social media strategies, said this young man "got lucky." 

"Twitter's algorithms alone could have buried this instantly," Popp told CMSWire. "I see many companies looking for a 'viral campaign' instead of focusing on the unglamorous, non-Ellen-appearing task of building an audience that can actually help that happen. Disillusionment runs rampant because every #nuggs-splosion makes it seem 'so simple.' It's absolutely not."

Brands' hashtag strategies are oftentimes nothing more, Popp said, than a "cursory search on social networks for an unclaimed hashtag that isn't terrible, coupled with a prayer that something like this will happen when they use it."

Marketers and brands, ever since Oreo launched the lights-out Super Bowl tweet, want to be the "next instant hit."   

Popp encourages brands on social to be funny, real, original, lighthearted and involved.

"Focus," he said, "on what works and success will come. I don't know who the first RTs were from (for Wilkerson), but you don't get this sort of engagement from someone with a small audience or reach. You need to nurture these things along, and it's hard work. There are 6,000 tweets sent per second on Twitter." 

Marketers Paying Attention

One thing's for sure: Marketers are paying attention here:

The Carter Wilkerson brand went from high school junior to international sensation with one 37-character tweet that could have easily gone unanswered. Now, he's got 100,000-plus followers and a wildly-popular hashtag: #NuggsForCarter.

Learning Opportunities

Ok, so how does a viral kid's tweet help your 100,000-employee, B2B manufacturing company, you may be asking? OK, I'll admit: I don't see Maersk tweeting to 7-Eleven asking for a year's worth of slurpees just to get brand recognition.

Listen and Engage

We're not going to sit here and insult your marketing intelligence telling you social media can be effective. You know. We know you know.

But the lesson here is Wendy's swift reaction. First, they were listening. Second, they answered. Third, they actually engaged. We trust they've been tweeted at before something similar. This time, they saw an opportunity and pounced.

It all begins with listening. Are you constantly monitoring brand mentions in social circles? Are your responses in line with your social media business philosophy?

'Social Brand Persona'

"Wendy’s has invested a significant amount of resources and time in developing the 'friendly snark' at the core of its social brand persona," said Lizz Kannenberg, director of content at Sprout Social. "Its social audience knows what to expect from Wendy’s on social and the response to Carter’s initial tweet was in line with that: not condescending, but playful." 

It's not a “real-time marketing” tactic, she added, but rather supports "years of calculated brand voice development in the social space."

Responding to ordinary customers and working to create brand moments from those interactions is something any brand can replicate, Kannenberg added. 

"Dedicating a percentage of your brand’s social resources to audience engagement is virtually table stakes," Kannenberg said. "However, choosing to focus engagement on a certain consumer profile that is core to your business — for Wendy’s, it’s teens and young adults like Carter who are social natives — is a great way to give seemingly small conversational moments the potential to reach farther." 

Jumping into the Fray

Some other companies got into the mix here, too:

Even Twitter itself entered the conversation:

You buying into the hype? Did this 16-year-old make you rethink your social media marketing strategy, even if just a little?

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