When Carter Wilkerson tweeted at Wendy’s last week asking how many retweets he would need to get a year of free chicken nuggets, the brand gave an earnest, straightforward response: 18 million. That set off a storm of excitement on Twitter, with the teenager begging followers to help him reach his goal. While he didn’t succeed, he scored the most-retweeted missive of all time with 3.5 million retweets – prompting Wendy’s to give him the year of nuggets anyway and serving as a lesson for brands that responding on Twitter can pay off.

Such incidents are increasingly rare in the face of Twitter’s flat user growth. The number of customers to whom brands responded on Twitter declined by 15% between the first and third quarters of 2016, according to L2’s Social Platforms report. While major household brands like Adidas and Pepsi get thousands of mentions, they rarely grant individual responses.

Twitter handle mentions by brand

Bucking the trend, Wendy’s interacts frequently with its followers, often in a joking manner. The brand not only replied initially to Wilkerson’s tweet with the seemingly arbitrary number of 18 million, but also retweeted encouragement and press coverage of the teenager’s quest, boosting its visibility even further. As a result, the thread generated so much genuine consumer interest that other brands tried to get in on the action. Even United Airlines tweeted at Wilkerson, offering him a free flight to eat his nuggets.

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