What does it take to make a viral tweet? The most popular Twitter posts from recent years

The social media platform has seen a surge in usage this year as the pandemic rages on

Twitter has become an increasingly popular platform amid the pandemic. Unsplash
Twitter has become an increasingly popular platform amid the pandemic. Unsplash

Whether you love it or hate it, Twitter has become a lifeline for many during the pandemic.

As it is often the quickest way for news (as well as misinformation) to travel, usage has surged on the social media platform in the first few months of 2020. Viral tweets have also seemed more prevalent than ever during the coronavirus outbreak, Black Lives Matter movement, or due to K-pop-associated posts or simply uplifting messages amid all the gloom.

Here, we look at the state of Twitter in 2020, as well as analysing the most popular tweets of all time.

Are more people using Twitter now than ever before?

The short answer seems to be: yes.

Twitter calculates its user base in its "monetisable daily active usage" or mDAU, which basically registers any Twitter user who logs on directly to twitter.com, or other Twitter applications that show ads. So, not Tweetbot or Tweetdeck.

In the first quarter of 2020, a Twitter spokesperson says the platform globally tracked 24 per cent growth (14 million more average mDAUs) compared to last year, which is its highest reported year-on-year increase to date.

In March 2020 alone, Twitter has registered a 45 per cent increase in the usage of its "events" feature, which provides a curated and credible list of news about the coronavirus. There has also been a 30 per cent increase in direct messaging on the site.

Are more tweets going viral in 2020?

Twitter doesn't necessarily have a bar that must be met or any kind of definition around what "going viral" means, but describes it as a tweet that is seen by a large audience or gets a large amount of retweets.

"Some viral tweets ignite and spread immediately across the platform, whereas the growth of others is more measured," the spokesperson says.

Despite it perhaps feeling like the case for users, Twitter could not comment on whether there were more tweets going viral during the pandemic.

Globally, the most tweeted-about celebrities are a mixed bag. K-pop band BTS tops the list, followed by another K-pop band, Seventeen, then singers Camila Cabello and Justin Bieber, and Filipino actress Maine Mendoza.

What are the most popular tweets of all time?

There is no easy answer to this question. Twitter doesn't share top tweets of all time, only per year, and rankings depends on whether you count popularity by likes or retweets.

(Twitter discounts tweets that offer payment in exchange for retweets, such as those by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, which are technically the most popular of all time.)

These are some of the most popular tweets between 2017 and the current day:


A congratulatory message for those leaving Earth

Twitter won't release its most-tweeted list of the year for another six months, but we're going to assume this one will be on there. US comedian Andy Milonakis posted this tweet on the day SpaceX's Crew Dragon lifted off in its first test flight to the International Space Station with two Nasa astronauts on board. In less than a month, it has been retweeted 832,000 times and liked 3.8 million times.


The world record-setting egg

Remember that time Instagram users were asked to ensure a very simple picture of an egg became the most-liked post on Instagram, beating Kylie Jenner, who held the record at 18 million likes? Naturally, the egg ran away with the title, and now has 54 million likes.

Noting the success, the egg turned its sights to another platform and attempted to become the most most-retweeted tweet of all time, too. But it just couldn't quite conquer Twitter. The egg did, however, become the most retweeted tweet of 2019.

The account is now suspended so we don't know how many eggcited fans had continued to like or retweet the egg in the months since (we also don't have the original tweet now, so we've got the Instagram post above instead), but when it was announced as the most-retweeted tweet of 2019, the egg had 957,100 retweets. Until K-pop fans got wind of it ...

BTS member Jeon Jungkook dancing to Billie Eilish's bad guy

Just hours after 2019's most popular tweet was announced as a humble photo of an egg, BTS fans assembled to ensure that was changed. And they did so by retweeting this video of Jungkook dancing, which was originally in the second spot, into the top spot.

At the time of writing, the tweet has 1.3 million retweets and 2.4 million likes. However, if you were to ask Twitter, they don't condone cheating, and still consider it the second most popular tweet of 2019.

These guys being chased by a duckling

Last year's third most-retweeted tweet, with 610,000 retweets and 1.5 million likes and counting.

This video of a particularly limber cat doing some impressive jumping

Yes, a cat video. Over 614,000 retweets and 1.7 million likes.

A 6-year-old tweet from Lady Gaga

Who would've known a random assortment of letters and numbers could prove so popular... six years after you originally posted it? One of last year's most popular tweets with comment was this wondrous offering from Lady Gaga, which was picked up by thousands of fans as a meme, describing both happiness and frustration. Fun fact: this was also one of the most retweeted tweets in 2018.


Limonada 2.0

Popular YouTube gamer Elrubius announced a challenge called “Limonada 2.0,” where fans were encouraged to retweet the post for a chance to win prizes. This was 2018's top retweeted tweet.


A basketball promise from a football player

Cleveland Browns player Damarious Randall nabbed the second spot with 1,085,588 retweets and a pretty out there promise before the 2018 NBA finals. Spoiler alert: he did not have to buy any jerseys.

Barack Obama's mic drop

This was the most retweeted with comment tweet of 2018, encouraging people to quote the tweet with an unpopular opinion. It has been retweeted now over 151,000 times.


A harmless plea for some free chicken nuggets

US high schooler Carter Wilkerson’s call for a year’s supply of free nuggets from Wendys racked up 3.42m retweets to surpass Ellen Degeneres’s infamous Ocars selfie as the most retweeted tweet of all time in 2018. Although Wendys set him the challenge of getting to 18 million retweets, apparently he did get a year's free supply of nuggets.

Barack Obama pleading for racial tolerance

Obama's tweet reacting to the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia in which a white supremacist drove his car into a car of protesters at a neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally, became the most liked tweet ever on the social network.

Obama's quote from Nelson Mandela's 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom has garnered 1.6m retweets and 4.3 likes.

Ariana Grande reacting to the Manchester Arena bomb attacks

The singer posted this tweet the day after an extremist detonated a homemade bomb as people were leaving Manchester Arena following her concert. The attack killed 23 people and 139 were wounded, more than half of them children.

Another time everyone loved Barack Obama

Obama was a popular figure in both life and on social media, so it's probably unsurprising that he features on the list multiple times. This tweet was posted on the day of the outgoing president's farewell address in Chicago, and has thus far racked up almost 817,000 retweets and 1.7 million likes.

A notable mention from 2014

Still reigning supreme as one of the most popular tweets of all time is Degeneres's star-studded Oscars selfie from six years ago. Featuring the comedienne, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Merly Streep, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o, Peter Nyong'o and Angelina Jolie, it rapidly became the most retweeted of all time. It now has 3.1 million retweets and 2.2 million likes.

What about Twitter in the UAE?

The top tweets in the UAE last year were either related to the Emirates' space race, or Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

This tweet, in Arabic, from astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri was the most retweeted in the UAE in 2019. In English, the tweet translates as: "A few hours before launch and I’m filled with this indescribable feeling of glory and awe. Today I carry the dreams and ambition of my country to a whole new dimension. May Allah grant me success in this mission. Your brother, Hazzaa AlMansoori."

Sheikh Mohammed's tweets around the Arabic hashtag علمتني_الحياة# (translated as ‘what life has taught me’), were also among the top tweets in the UAE. The Dubai ruler used this hashtag throughout the year to share his knowledge and experiences with future generations.

The UAE's top hashtags were #Astro_hazzaa, the Arabic hashtags for Ramadan and one relating to the death of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, #7sainaljassmi (for Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi) and one for Flag Day.

Published: June 25, 2020 09:24 AM


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