After track practice, hurdler Carter Wilkerson likes to head to the Wendy’s near his high school for some chicken nuggets. On April 5, the 16-year-old from Reno embarked on an incredible journey with a simple tweet to his favorite fast-food chain: “Yo @Wendys how many retweets for a year of free chicken nuggets?”
Carter didn’t hold his breath, but Wendy’s actually replied: 18 million retweets — a ludicrous proposition. At the time, Ellen DeGeneres held the record of 3.3 million retweets for her 2014 Oscar selfie. Carter jokingly accepted the challenge and called on the Twitterverse for help.
HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS pic.twitter.com/4SrfHmEMo3
— Carter Wilkerson (@carterjwm) April 6, 2017
The #NuggsForCarter hashtag was born. Today, this humble teenager’s plea for nuggets became the most retweeted tweet of all time. Here’s how.
#NuggsForCarter heats up
The morning after the Wendy’s tweet, Carter discovered that #NuggsForCarter had taken on a life of its own. Overnight, he went from having a Twitter account with a mere 150 followers to being retweeted over 50,000 times. Major brands like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, United and GoDaddy soon got on the bandwagon and lent their Twitter credibility.
— GoDaddy (@GoDaddy) April 11 2017
As the hashtag gained momentum, people started asking for #NuggsForCarter merchandise. Carter and his family wanted to take things to the next level and sell T-shirts online for charity. They didn’t know much about building a website, but they knew a little about GoDaddy and thought it might be a good place to start.
“We thought GoDaddy would be a great way to start NuggsForCarter.com,” said Carter.
When building a brand, having a memorable domain matters. Unfortunately, someone had already snatched up NuggsForCarter.com, but GoDaddy was able to help Carter and his family reach out to secure the domain. Then they set up a website using GoDaddy GoCentral— a new mobile-friendly website builder that makes it easy to get online quickly.
GoCentral websites like NuggsForCarter.com are designed to perform on mobile devices — an important factor when catering to the Twitter crowd. GoCentral Online Store also makes it easy to accept major credit cards, PayPal® and Apple Pay. When people can hop from Twitter to your website and make a purchase in a couple clicks, you’ll sell more stuff.
In a matter of days, Carter’s site was attracting more visitors than any other GoCentral site.
#NuggsforCarter for a cause
Early on, Carter and his family wanted to tie #NuggsForCarter to a cause. The Wilkerson family has faced its share of challenges. Carter himself was born with a hole in his lung. When he was 9 years old, his mom was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer just two weeks after giving premature birth to Carter’s baby sister. As Carter wrote on his website:
“I want to give back. I am incredibly lucky to be born into a family like mine. Whenever I’m sad or feeling ungrateful, I think back to when I was a kid. I remember when my parents would have to drive to UCSF every other weekend to receive treatments. I remember families bringing us dinners trying to support us in any way they could. I remember seeing my sister so prematurely born that she was on the brink of death.”
In the wake of those challenges, gratitude abounds.
Carter’s family is donating the T-shirt proceeds to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and a local nonprofit that supports breast cancer patients, Pinocchio’s Moms on the Run. Wendy’s also pledged to donate $100K to the Dave Thomas Foundation if Carter beats Ellen’s retweet record. Fans and supporters can still buy their T-shirts today at his website.
Striking up a playful rivalry
“Carter, you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres
After Carter pulled into the No. 2 position for most retweeted tweet ever, Ellen DeGeneres invited him to appear on her show. No big deal. With her signature straightfaced comedy, Ellen explained the baffling phenomenon that this kid from Reno was challenging her Twitter record. Game on.
Ellen gave her television audience permission to retweet #NuggsForCarter, but only if they also retweeted her selfie. She wished Carter that while she wished him well in the pursuit of 18 million retweets, he should avoid surpassing her record at all costs. “I’m OK with being number two,” he laughed.
With that, she sent him home with a giant TV and a year’s supply of Ellen underwear, which she threatened to confiscate if he upstages her.
Finding the secret sauce to going viral
Lots of people dream of their 15 minutes of fame, but like Carter, many of them stumble on it when they least expect it. Luck no doubt plays a role in going viral, but Carter did more than a few things right once #NuggsForCarter picked up steam.
“I think he struck a nerve with people,” said Lauren Antonoff, SVP of presence and commerce at GoDaddy. “Carter is also incredibly smart about his online presence — the way he uses Twitter and was willing to go out there and ask people to support him. And it worked.”
10 keys to Carter’s viral success
He put himself out there.
He invited people to be part of reaching his bold goal.
He was authentic on social media and beyond.
He embraced his personal style (e.g., T-shirt designs with curly hair and glasses).
He built a cohesive brand with matching hashtag and domain.
He tied his brand to causes that matter to people.
He created a mobile-friendly eCommerce website to make it easy for fans to buy merchandise.
He hired a communications professional to help manage media requests.
He continued to update fans about his progress via social media.
He seemed to genuinely enjoy the ride.
Going for the gold
Carter’s website includes some goofy lines like “I’ve always aspired to be a chicken nugget.” But it also contains some very sincere words that reveal who he really is. Among other things, he’s a teenager who isn’t afraid to say that his cancer survivor mom and his ultramarathoner dad inspire him to be the best he can be every day.
And that’s how this kid from Reno who was born with a hole in his lung now runs hurdles and holds the record for the most retweeted tweet of all time. On May 9, Carter passed Ellen’s Twitter record.
Consider all of us at GoDaddy impressed. CEO Blake Irving sported his red #NuggsForCarter T-shirt at our company-wide town hall meeting this week.
— Noah Plumb ? (@no) May 3, 2017
Why? Because we’re proud that products like GoCentral help people follow their dreams, whether they want to start a small business, run a nonprofit, or go for the nuggs.
Inspired by Carter’s story? Try GoDaddy GoCentral for free. Build a simple site in under an hour and add additional features like email marketing and an online store when you’re ready. Build a mobile-friendly website anytime, anywhere — from your smartphone or laptop. And, of course, support #NuggsforCarter today by retweeting his original tweet and grab your #NuggsforCarter T-shirt. Do it for the kids.
Also published on Medium.