A Couple Bucks and a Few Hundred Follows: A Viral Tweet Isn’t Worth Much
I’ve always wondered what a viral tweet is worth, because it’s an interesting way to think about what social media is worth — and what we hope for when we post. On the one hand, social media creates a tremendous amount of value. Twitter pulled in $3.46 billion last year, mostly by selling ads. It boasts 330 million active monthly users and an astonishing 145 million daily users (myself included). It’s a tempting target for advertisers.
But on the other hand, all that money goes to Twitter, not its users, despite the fact that it’s the creators who tweet those hilarious takes and memes that keep us so hooked. To make money from their viral tweets, creators have to look to other sources of revenue. Some creators link to shops to monetize their followings. Others court brand sponsorships. Accumulating a large following can lead to money or employment down the road.
Finally, going viral can feel good, especially on a platform like Twitter, which has a peculiarly low engagement rate: If more than 0.5% of the people who follow you engage with your content, that’s considered a good engagement metric, according to ContentCal.
But how much is a viral tweet actually worth monetarily? I reached out to the owners of several viral tweets to ask what they made off the back of their virality. All the accounts were unverified and had fewer than 5K followers before the viral tweet. Four of their owners responded, and here’s what they said about the experience of going viral.
Twitter user @andromediart made around $30
I sent Andromeda King a direct message after she posted a very sweet image of her two bunnies wearing spinach as hats that went viral.
The tweet got more than 500K likes and nearly 100K retweets.
Unlike many other viral tweeters, King has an Etsy shop in her bio. “I gained about a little over 600 followers from here and on Instagram,” she said. “I believe I got 2 orders so far that came from my tweet. & I got one person asking me if I could advertise something of theirs.” Prices on her products range from $12 to $20, so King made between $24 and $40. I messaged her two days after her viral tweet was posted, so it’s possible she’s earned more since then.
Twitter user @BambiStein_ got 300 followers
I was fascinated to learn from the creator who goes by the name Bambi that the “thee” in Megan Thee Stallion, the name of a popular rapper, is just pronounced “the.” Apparently, I wasn’t alone.
Bambi’s tweet received 360K likes and 32K retweets. Unlike King, she didn’t have a shop to plug. Bambi also received no promotional offers from brands.
In reply to my DM, Bambi said she “didn’t get offered any brand offers” for her tweet, but around 300 new accounts had followed her.
Twitter user @ChrisArnoldInc got 500 followers and interview requests from journalists
Like many other students, those who are taught by Chris Arnold’s wife are sick unto death of Zoom calls and came up with a fun way to dodge them. This tweet received 220K likes and 28.7K retweets:
When I sent Arnold a direct message to ask if he’d received any brand sponsorships or other monetization methods after going viral, he replied that he hadn’t received any brand offers, but he did get 500 followers. In addition, Arnold got access to potential media exposure. “Various journalists got in touch wanting to speak with my wife, but she didn’t want to say anything,” he said.
A platform that gives you an opportunity to speak with journalists will be valuable to some people. But there have already been issues with journalists taking tweets at face value, such as when one journalist from the New York Post assumed that a teen’s joke about getting a second mortgage on his parent’s house to buy GameStop stock was true.
Arnold could have been making the whole thing up, but due to his tweet’s virality, journalists still wanted to speak with his wife rather than contact local schools or parents.
Twitter user @MelissaTheDuffy was offered a $10 brand sponsorship deal
Many Twitter users will know the confusing experience of clicking on the thread of a viral tweet only to see some ceiling lights or kitchen sponge–type product being sold. It turns out that placement nets you around $10.
After tweeting about her high-maintenance bones and getting nearly 700K likes and 75.9K retweets, cartoonist Melissa Duffy got about 1,000 new followers and fielded various offers from companies, including:
- $10 to promote Iridescent Roses.
- The opportunity to “name her price” to post a dodgy weight-loss thread. (The one she linked to in her DM to me was from a suspended account, but this is the same one — they try to get you to buy a sketchy weight-loss supplement.)
- One inquiry from a potential customer who said he may “have a job for [her] because he has a comic idea.”
- The offer to potentially repost her tweet on the @FuckJerry Instagram account for $50. (They did not get back to her.)
- Waterpik sent her a Waterpik for no reason or without requiring any additional advertisement, simply because her tweet was about teeth.
Duffy’s account also grew by around 1,000 followers.
In conclusion, the tweet Duffy wrote because she thought her friends would enjoy her fleeting thought got nearly 700K likes and was worth a grand total of 1,000 followers, $10 to promote a brand under her tweet, and a free Waterpik.
Despite the fact that viral tweets don’t appear to be very lucrative for the creator and may not net them many followers, Twitter manages to make $3.46 billion because people still want to go viral for no reason other than that it feels good. My theory is because it tickles our monkey brains to feel like we’re popular.
I’ve written before about how Instagram celebs feel like our friends and how influencers use this parasocial relationship to make money. Social media affects our brains another way: Getting likes fuels our dopamine levels. “When someone likes an Instagram post or any content that you share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience,” writes New York University professor Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, via Business Insider.
Twitter uses that relationship to monetize our content for itself.
Alter’s point is that likes make you feel liked — literally — more popular, more accepted. And at a very core level, that’s all we want.
Maybe that’s why even with such paltry financial offerings as a reward for our creativity, many of us still hope that this tweet, this blog post, this TikTok will be the one to push us into viraldom.