Desiigner's Retweet Challenge Failure Unexpectedly Turns Into a Social (Media) Experiment

Twitter followers only matter if they're willing to actually follow.

On Friday, January 19, at 6:51 am EST, G.O.O.D. Music artist Desiigner fired off a single tweet to his 1.1 million followers on Twitter, asking for 50,000 retweets in exchange for the release of his new single "Urgent."

Approximately 72 hours later, the tweet is nearing 1,800 retweets. In other words, the 20-year-old Brooklyn native is roughly 48,200 retweets away from meeting his stated goal of 50,000 retweets, the minimum number of retweets required in order for the world to get their digital hands on "Urgent."

So how did we get here? How did Desiigner so severely overestimate the pull of his following on Twitter? Is it even Desiigner's fault? Or is it actually Twitter's fault?

Before any overarching claims are made about Desiigner, it's important that we take note of the following:

  1. Kicking off a retweet challenge at 6:51 am EST on a Friday morning—otherwise known as "non-peak" hours—isn't the greatest social media strategy. Had Desiigner waited two or three more hours before hitting send, he would have dramatically increased the likelihood of the tweet going viral, which would have put him in a much better position to achieve his stated goal.
  2. For years, Twitter has been tweaking their algorithm in an effort to both show people the "best content" and to force popular accounts to pay for advertising campaigns, which means that even if you are following someone on Twitter, you won't always see all of their tweets on your timeline. The more people that engage with a particular tweet, the more likely it is that the tweet will eventually appear on your feed. But still, there are no guarantees. (If you follow Desiigner on Twitter but you weren't on the app last Friday, there's a very good chance that by Saturday, the tweet was as a good as gone.)
  3. While highly unlikely, it's still possible for Desiigner to reach his stated goal of 50,000 retweets—a single retweet from one of his very popular artist friends would go along way toward jumpstarting this struggle mission.
  4. There are very few hip-hop acts who could actually pull off requesting 50,000 retweets in exchange for the release of a new single with no special guests. The shortlist: Kanye West (if he reactivated his Twitter), Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole, Eminem, André 3000 (if he joined Twitter), probably Logic, probably JAY-Z, and maybe Chance The Rapper.

For almost a year, Desiigner's career has simultaneously been on the verge of collapse and glory. That statement could apply to countless new generation rappers—and yes, we know, Desiigner would prefer if you don't label him a "rapper"—who seemingly blow up overnight and are unable to translate instant success ("Panda") into a sustainable buzz, but no artist has entered the music industry over the past half-decade quite like Desiigner.



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In May 2016, former DJBooth manager editor Nathan Slavik wrote the following:

"No one has ever experienced larger success with less preparation and groundwork than Desiigner currently, and so even with big names like Kanye and Mike Dean in his corner, history says there's a very small chance that he'll go on to have a significant, long-lasting career, even if he currently seems inescapable."

In the 18 months since we published that story, Desiigner's "Panda" single has been certified 5x Platinum and his XXL Freshman freestyle-turned-single also earned a Platinum certification, but because of his lightning-fast rise to the top, he was never able to build a real fanbase that could grow with him over time. He acquired hundreds of thousands of followers on social media through "Panda," through his signing with G.O.O.D Music and Def Jam, and through his affiliation and work with Kanye and Pusha T, but none of these "fans" were around from the very start of his career. They were never invested in his long-term success. They don't know about his introspective side or that he can actually rap really well. All they know is that Desiigner has that one song, he is signed to that one label and he works with all those artists.

Desiigner didn't plan for his retweet challenge to turn into a social (media) experiment, but that is exactly what ended up happening. I have no idea how many of his 1.1 million followers on Twitter are real people and how many are Russian bots but with the prospect of brand new music being dangled in front of them like a carrot, only roughly .01 percent of his Twitter following was interested in showing support with a single retweet. 

JAY-Z once rapped, "Men lie, women lie, numbers don't," but at that time, Twitter was only three years old and nowhere near the social media giant it is today. In the case of an artist like Desiigner, numbers do, in fact, lie. Sure, 1.1 million is a large, sexy number, but Desiigner would be in a much better position with a quarter of those "followers" if it means higher engagement on Twitter and a deepened investment offline. Bloated follower totals mean nothing if the simplest of calls to action fall on deaf ears.

Luckily for Desiigner, it's not too late to start growing organically—thanks to the internet, a rapper's "window" is never closed. In order to start that process, however, Desiigner must press the restart button on his career. Instead of trying to duplicate his success with "Panda" or trying to craft the perfect record for Spotify's RapCaviar playlist, Desiigner needs to focus on creating a dynamic full-length debut album. Migos were written off by fans and critics alike when their 2015 debut, Yung Rich Nation, flopped on arrival, but the trio stayed committed to carving out their own lane and building a dedicated fanbase. Two years later, they delivered a career-altering album in Culture and now they are the biggest group in hip-hop. 

The bottom line: Twitter followers only matter if they're willing to actually follow. Which means in this instance, less can actually mean so much more.



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