Twitter users know the power of hashtags, but what if you got one to trend across the entire country? In less than six hours, #theraj was surfacing in 17 states across the U.S.—even jumping the pond into the United Kingdom—and at one point reached 36 hits a minute.
It all started as a pre-April Fools’ joke: Five students from Rochester Institute of Technology developed a hashtag to follow their marketing professor, Rajendran Murthy, on Twitter. But they also wanted to test the social media power of #theraj through a collaborative and far-reaching experiment.
“They wanted an A in my class, Search Engine Marketing and Analytics, which is a very specialized course and taught in very few locations around the U.S.,” says Murthy, who teaches at RIT’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business. “But in return they had to demonstrate their social media expertise and their ability to prove that a small group of five people could actually get a major trend going. I reluctantly agreed assuming that this was highly unlikely given that even the hashtag #RIT had never trended before.”
The students started their tweets at 4 p.m. March 31, and within a few hours, #theraj hit a majority of states on the east coast, from Maine to Florida, trickled from Illinois down to Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, and tapped into Colorado, Utah, Washington and California.
“We each had our own strategies to increase the reach of the #theraj hashtag campaign,” says fourth-year student Mark Yesilevskiy, who is majoring in new media marketing. “While the others attempted to reach famous Twitter users or those in the RIT and Rochester community, my strategy was to rely on relationships that were either personal or made through Twitter. Looking at the map of where #theraj trended, I can tell you at least one specific user who contributed in most of the cities. The best example of this is when my username trended in the city of Philadelphia, thanks to a number of the city’s soccer fans who asked their respective followers to retweet the message for me.”
One surprise, says Murthy, came from Yvonne Mason, a teacher in Greenville County Schools in South Carolina. She sent the RIT students a message: “What a wonderful learning experience! My AP language class got in on this and I am amazed at how invested they became in helping a total stranger—of course they asked me if they could get an A if they did it too!”
Murthy says: “#theraj entertained so many people, confused so many others, surprised some others and annoyed a few. Just as April Fools’ Day broke on the Eastern seaboard, #theraj trended in several places across the U.S. and even in parts of Europe and Canada. The tag did not make it to the Twitter top 10 list, but in six hours or so it managed to take the nation by storm. It was a true David versus Goliath story, except so much more engaging.”
Or as Trent Widrick, a third-year student majoring in information technology, says: “For me, just watching people collaborate and tweet about #theraj really opened my eyes about the popularity and power of Twitter. Although we never received a guaranteed A in the class, it was a fun experiment to see how far the reach of five guys can go.”
Editor’s note: This is a standard news release, and if you choose not to cover #theraj, there’s always Twitter.