A viral conversation is like lightning. You don’t know where it’ll strike, and it rarely strikes in the same place twice. If you want to capture it, your gear needs to be optimized and ready to shoot, because it’s not a subject that’s going to stop and pose for you. 

Benchmarking an industry, the fast food industry in particular, allowed us to discover conversations on social media as they went viral. Using Executive Alerts, we monitored social media to discover viral conversations around the top 20 fast food brands. A standard report from within Executive Alerts gave us links to the most popular conversations, hashtags, and keywords, pinpointing their origin. 

While every viral opportunity isn’t necessarily a sales opportunity, it’s useful to see how social media levels the playing field among the top brands. Professional gamers and YouTube celebrities can start memes and trends as easily as actors and athletes. A brand can decide whether to amplify their viral brandwagon or let it play out on its own. 

Below, we ranked the top 5 influential, brand-specific viral tweets for fast food by number of retweets, as those show up in the timeline of a retweeter’s followers. The retweet effectively rebroadcasts a message, so is an effective indicator of reach.

1. Jack-in-the-Box

2. Starbucks

3.Chick-fil-A

4. Sonic

5. Chipotle

Honorable mention: KFC

While the first four of the top five viral tweets have verified accounts—an account of public interest that is @twitter authenticated—@KalynnMiles is presumably an LA resident whose tweet happened to resonate with her 440 followers and many of theirs. In this case, a photo of an alleged chicken foot in her burrito bowl was undoubtedly the match that lit the viral sharing, an event that makes ordinary people celebrities for a day. Clicking through to her timeline on the original tweet reveals a cascade of negative replies directed at Mexican food restaurant. 

Beyond the subject matter, these viral tweets have something else in common—they all include a photo or video to accompany their message. Which goes to show, visual content is king. Now that Twitter isn’t counting embedded photo, video, or gif content towards the 140 characters, there is no reason to not include visual content in tweets.

These viral tweets were drawn from Twitter May 2016. To see the full list of viral fast food tweets, along with other in-depth analysis of the social media trends in the fast food industry, download: Industry Report: Fast Food and Quick Service.