What happens when Elon Musk likes your tweet

Hello and welcome. I'm glad you're here.

Let's talk about that: why you're here.

You're probably here because you came across a tweet I wrote this week that went viral.

This was the tweet:

twitter profile avatar
Benjamin Carlson
Twitter Logo
Twitter Logo
January 2nd 2023

As of this writing, it has 4.6 million views, 35,290 likes and 8,480 retweets.

How did that happen? Simple. There were two reasons:

1. Jack.

And 2. Elon.

Those two likes, one by the founder of Twitter and one by the owner of Twitter, instantly made my tweet explode.

Within 24 hours, that sentence—31 words long—was seen by more people in more places than anything I'd done before.

In fact, it was probably seen more than everything I wrote in 10 years as a writer, editor, and foreign correspondent.

That's how it happened.

But why that tweet?

The 6 Elements of a Viral Tweet

While surprising, this success wasn't random. The tweet does some important things right:

  1. It provokes curiosity - You'll notice I didn't explain what the video was about in detail. I teased the viewer with the CIA and promised a mind-bending twist.
  2. Every beat of the video works - In less than 2 minutes, McLuhan goes from talk of surveillance and privacy to talk of being a "discarnate being" to a stirring comment on nostalgia as a sign of identity loss.
  3. McLuhan's style - Paradoxical juxtapositions are engaging: The virtuoso violinist in a subway tunnel, Vietnamese street dishes in a 5-star restaurant. Here, the contrast of McLuhan's formal dress and manner— and surreal brilliance of what he's saying grips the viewer.
  4. The interviewer's reaction - He smiles, stunned. His response mirrors ours.
  5. It's relevant to everyone on Twitter - Everyone who saw this, by virtue of watching it online, has an emotional connection to the idea of being a discarnate creature, merged with other identities.
  6. In the end, it actually delivers the twist - McLuhan breaks the fourth wall and comments on the metaphysics of TV, while on TV.

In the end it was a great piece of content, packaged in an intriguing way, that spoke to the a widespread interest of people on the platform.

Where did I find it?

Next week, maybe I'll dig into more of the creative process.

In the meantime, enjoy the full interview.

Until then,


Benjamin Carlson

I'm a communications exec and a former editor at The Atlantic and foreign correspondent. Subscribe for lessons from my 15 years in media and PR

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