Inside The Social Media Strategy That Made Batkid Go Viral

Virality takes work, even when you’ve got a 5-year-old superhero and an entire city on board. Here’s how the firm that plotted the course of the most heartwarming 600,000 tweets of the year did it.

On November 15th, a five year-old named Miles Scott barreled into public consciousness as Batkid, a crime-fighting San Francisco superhero who takes on tricky villains like the Riddler and the Penguin, all while cruising around in a Lamborghini. That day, Miles, a Make-a-Wish Foundation grantee who recently finished chemotherapy treatments for leukemia, received Twitter shout-outs from Barack Obama, Britney Spears, and millions of others. He also had a crowd of tens of thousands cheering him on in person.


The event, while heartwarming, didn’t randomly go viral all on its own (few things do), though it may have seemed like it to anyone watching as #SFBatKid showed up every five seconds in their Twitter stream. Rather, it was a carefully crafted campaign from Clever Girls Collective, a content and social media agency that normally works with clients like Toyota, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Samsung. “We’ve been around for about four years as an under-the-radar social media company. Having an opportunity like Batkid was incredible for us. It showcased what we do every single day,” says Stefania Pomponi, the California company’s co-founder.

Pomponi came across the planned Batkid event, which involved Miles rescuing a damsel in distress from the train tracks, stopping the Penguin from kidnapping the San Francisco Giants seal mascot, and getting the key to the city from the mayor, on local blog SFist. While Make-a-Wish’s Greater Bay Area chapter didn’t have any social media following, the compelling story was already starting to make the blog rounds thanks to word of mouth. Pomponi was immediately inspired.

Two weeks before the event, she reached out to the local Make-a-Wish branch and offered her services pro bono. She says that while Apple stepped in to do PR, Clever Girls took care of all things social media.

Within 24 hours, the agency had a plan. First, Pomponi and her colleagues coordinated with Twitter to secure some important handles, including @SFWish for all information about the event and @PenguinSF (for Batkid’s nemesis, portrayed by staff at Clever Girls). Previously, the head of Make-a-Wish Greater Bay Area had only been using her personal Twitter account to get information across. “We said, “From now on, use #SFbatkid as a hashtag on everything,'” says Pomponi.

All tweets before the event directed back to a single link–the Make-a-Wish site containing the details of Batkid’s planned adventure.

For many campaigns, Clever Girls works across social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. This one was entirely Twitter-focused (though it also had a Facebook page). But the agency still used it’s 6,000-plus network of paid influencers–people with large online followings who act as social media foot soldiers in Clever Girls campaigns–to spread in the word.


The final piece of the Clever Girls social media campaign before the event was a Twitter chat the morning of Batkid’s big day, focusing on heroes and sending out a call to action for Make-a-Wish donations. “We wanted to get the hashtag trending as quickly as we could, but the hashtag was already trending before the chat,” says Pomponi.

Clever Girls sent two of its staffers to follow Miles during his adventures, taking pictures and videos and posting them to the @SFWish account all the while. The rest of the Clever Girls team worked to amplify the best #SFBatkid tweets. Livefyre agreed to aggregate all of the top content for the day, and Simply Measured provided free social media traffic analytics.

The stats were impressive: nearly 600,000 tweets and 1.7 billion total Twitter impressions between November 5th and 16th. At its peak traffic time, the Make-a-Wish website received 1,000 hits per second, causing the site to crash.

In the end, the campaign became so big that 20,000 people showed up to see Miles get his key to the city. Pomponi estimates that similar crowds came to check out Miles at other venues throughout the day. The event was so unexpectedly large that the city spent $105,000 for things like a big video screen at city hall, speakers to amplify the proceedings, and cleanup crews (The Wire points out that this is significantly less than the city would spend on a single public toilet).

But the event brought a city that rarely agrees on anything together for a positive cause–in fact, it seemed for a brief time that most of the Internet rallied around Miles’s big day. Clever Girls deserves some credit for this, but it didn’t hurt that the story was a powerful one.

Clever Girls will continue to work with Make-a-Wish on future campaigns. “They are very interested in the new attention and Twitter followers they’ve gained,” says Pomponi.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more


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