Most small business' social media accounts are a slow drip of links, photos and promotions with some customer service thrown in, but everyone hopes for that one post that goes viral and racks up hundreds of thousands of hits and draws major positive attention to the business.

That is exactly what happened for Billy's Donuts, a pastry shop in Houston, Texas.

The owner's son, who is named Billy, tweeted on March 9 that his father's newly opened donut shop was empty and his father was sad because nobody was coming to visit, along with photos of the empty shop, the barren parking lot outside, his sad dad inside and a close up of some mouthwatering donuts.

How much traction that initial tweet may have garnered on its own is debatable, but what's not debatable is that once Twitter's own official account found, retweeted it, and promised to stop by the next day, things took off quickly.

With the endorsement from Twitter, thousands of people saw the tweet and soon Billy's tweet racked up nearly 333,700 retweets and over 746,100 likes on Twitter, not to mention completely selling out its inventory.

Twitter, by the way, made good on its promise and stopped by for some donuts the next day.

Billy and his father had a happy ending to a day that started out sad and it teaches us these three lessons about this social media game we're all playing as business owners.

1. You have to be real on social media.

This is the one people get wrong by far the most. What made Billy's tweet about his dad's empty donut shop so compelling was its earnestness. He wasn't simply tweeting out a link or a promotion. The tweet seemed incredibly honest and genuine, which is why Twitter picked it up.

Too often, businesses are quick to hire social media managers or experts to run their accounts. While this may save some time on the business owner, it can also have the unfortunate side effect of making your social media accounts a bit sterile.

What set Billy's apart was the authenticity of it. It didn't look set up or staged. It just looked like a son telling us how sad his pop was about the dearth of customers at his shop.

2. You cannot control virality.

While Billy is no doubt happy that his tweet was picked up by Twitter's official account and went viral, he probably had no idea that it was going to go viral. That's because nobody can know. An innocuous tweet or some other type of post can strike a chord with people like Billy's did while the most carefully constructed post published at the exact right moment according to all your analytical data can fall flat. There is just no way to tell.

While I'm sure my social media managers would love to go viral, we've opted for consistency and providing our customers with useful information, which we feel is the most useful social media strategy.

3. People like to help local businesses.

People do like to spend locally. While it may seem like everyone is going to big box stores and restaurants or ordering online, people will pull together to help a local business in need, as evidenced by the outpouring of support for Billy's dad.

People who commented on the initial tweet once it started to go viral were even planning road trips to the shop.

While we don't rely on local business like a walk-in shop, we always highlight that we are headquartered in San Diego when we can to take advantage of the local love. Even if you ship around the country or around the world, it pays to advertise to your local neighborhood and city.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019