I’ve tweeted over 60,000 times, but I’d never seen anything like this.
As of this writing, one of my tweets has collected 100,000 likes and over 42,000 retweets, and counting. All in less than 24 hours.
The tweet is not extraordinary. It’s a simple pictograph, a sort of word illustration, that offers my perspective on one particularly pervasive piece of economic theory.
Trickle Down Economics
Trickle Down Economic
Trickle Down Economi
Trickle Down Econom
Trickle Down Econo
Trickle Down Econ
Trickle Down Eco
Trickle Down Ec
Trickle Down E
— Lance Ulanoff (@LanceUlanoff) December 2, 2017
“Trickle Down Economics” is a term I first heard in the early 1980s as then-President Reagan cut the highest marginal tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent. Lowering the tax burden on the highest earners would, in theory, energize the economy and, eventually, benefit middle and lower class citizens as all that extra cash in the highest earner’s pockets slowly made its way down through the economic strata to those at the bottom.
Critics of Reaganomics used the term Trickle Down economics to deride it, but the term has roots going back almost a century to President Herbert Hoover’s ineffective Depression-era recovery efforts.
Every once in a while, I can’t hold my tongue, or, sometimes, I have an idea that I can’t let go.
As the two houses of Congress debated their versions of President Donald Trump’s major tax overhaul bill, I started to hear the term again. Trump was about to offer corporations one of the biggest tax breaks in recent memory. In order for it to transform the economy, Trickle Down Economics would have to work. I just don’t believe it will.
I usually don’t offer my political and economic opinions on Twitter. I prefer to tweet about technology, entertainment, culture, and oddball stuff. However, every once in a while, I can’t hold my tongue, or, sometimes, I have an idea and I can’t let go. It’s like an itch I simply have to scratch. Such was the case with this tweet.
The image literally popped into my head: the phrase “Trickle Down” repeating, vertically over and over, shedding a letter at a time until it ended with the word “Trick.” I knew I couldn’t craft that tweet directly in Twitter because there’s no return key. It would have just shown the degradation of the phrase serially, as an ugly paragraph of text, and not as a pictograph.
I typed it into Notes on my iPhone and then did nothing. Like I said, political tweets are outside my social media comfort zone.
I woke up Saturday morning to the news that the Senate had passed its version of the Tax Bill in the wee hours of the morning. As I read tweets from senators describing the process and showing some of the insane last-minute, almost illegible markup, I became even more concerned about the effect of this bill.
So, I went back to my tweet draft in Notes and looked at how the term “Trickle Down” eventually became “Trick.” Something was missing. I added “Economics” and rebuilt the cascade. Then I copied and pasted it into Twitter and paused. There was no link or hashtag to accompany the tweet, just this word art.
It occurred to me that, without 280 characters, I would not have been able to pull off this tweet. Finally, a good reason to go beyond 140.
After staring at my Twitter app interface for a solid minute, I hit “Tweet.” Goodbye, and good luck.
I didn’t know what the impact would be. It wasn’t a dissertation on economic theory, just one point of view and one that I thought might spark a little conversation – and maybe some criticism. Most likely, it would be missed or ignored. That was OK, too. I just had to tweet it; no one had to react.
Prepare for launch
Almost from the start, the activity on the tweet was stronger than normal. Many of my tweets get a dozen or more likes and retweets. Sometimes, especially if I’m live-tweeting an Apple event, I even get a few hundred or more. In almost a decade of tweeting, nothing has even received a response like this.
Within a few hours I had over 2,000 likes, and I noticed that my phone kept buzzing. Increasingly, there were verified accounts, many with thousands of followers, picking it up. Most just liked it, the equivalent of nodding and saying, “I see what you did there.” But a growing number of verified accounts were also retweeting it to their thousands of followers. Normally, tweets lose steam after 10 minutes or so. This one kept getting stronger and stronger.
Apparently, I struck a nerve.
Apparently, I struck a nerve.
After eight hours or so, I’d amassed over 11,000 likes for this single tweet. Then a few celebrities started sharing and things got crazy. I watched as the likes rose in real-time, still outpacing retweets three-to-one. It was stunning.
It was probably around this time, say 10 p.m., that I and some Twitter users noticed there was a small error in the digression: I managed to delete two letters in one step, when I went from “Trickle Down E” to “Trickle Dow.” It’s pretty easy to miss (it’s a little like that old “Rain in Span falls mainly on the the plains” word puzzle) and visually doesn’t hurt the image. In fact, I now think the imperfection improves the pictograph. Seriously, anyone could have made this same tweet, but mine ends up being a little different.
Late on Saturday night, I started getting notifications from TrendsMap that I was trending in Ireland, Australia and Taiwan as the tweet collected hundreds of retweets and almost 10,000 likes an hour. A day later, I think it’s fair to say my tweet has gone viral. My phone is still buzzing. Since I started writing this, the tweet has added 7,000 likes and 4,000 retweets.
This can’t last. Soon people will stop sharing my tweet and it will fade from memory, at least, perhaps, until Trump signs the tax bill into law.
What have I learned? Timing is everything. I tweeted when I was most wound up about the bill, which also happened to be when much of the Twitter population was, as well. I kept it simple: no hashtags, images, or GIFs. I didn’t link to a story about the bill. I just left the interpretation up to Twitter.
Even so, there’s no magic recipe for viral tweets. Sometimes you just get lucky, and sometimes you get very lucky.