On November 15, a five-year-old battling leukemia named Miles Scott—aka Batkid—got his wish to become a superhero through the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation. Make-A-Wish worked with Mayor Ed Lee’s office to transform San Francisco into “Gotham,” complete with a call-to-action from Police Chief Greg Suhr. That day, Batkid stalked through the city with Eric Johnston, an actor playing Batman. He rescued a woman bound to cable car tracks, foiled the Riddler’s bank robbery, and liberated SF Giants mascot, Lou Seal, from the clutches of The Penguin. At City Hall, the mayor gave Batkid the key to the city in front of 20,000 cheering spectators.

A storm of human interest

Jennifer Wilson, Marketing Manager for GBA Make-A-Wish Foundation, says “This wish was not planned as a fundraiser or a media campaign. We would have devoted the same resources to a wish that involved a crowd of 20 as we did to this wish. Our mission, as always, was to bring strength and joy to the child.”

Batkid’s special day evolved into a storm of human interest: generating 580,761 Tweets, and 20,400 Instagram photos. More than 16,000 RSVP’d to volunteer. Tens of thousands of spectators lined San Francisco streets. Online, hundreds of thousands offered Miles encouragement, including President and First Lady Obama; Batman film stars Val Kilmer, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck; and other celebrities. The event grew costly for the city, but philanthropists John and Marcia Goldman stepped forward to cover the $105,000 expense.

How Batkid went viral

According to the Clever Girls Collective, Batkid has generated 1.7 billion social impressions and that number continues to grow.  How Batkid became a phenomenon is one part great, authentic story; and another part social media strategy. When Stefania Pomponi, a founder of Clever Girls Collective, heard about the plan to transform San Francisco into Gotham for Miles’ wish, she volunteered her company’s services pro bono. Pomponi says, “I knew this could go viral because Miles’ story was compelling and it appealed to civic pride and community in San Francisco, a city with tremendous social media presence. Livefyre and Twitter had already reached out to Make-A-Wish, so I knew we had the muscle to make this campaign unstoppable.” Without a doubt, Miles is the hero Gotham—or rather—San Francisco deserves.

The social media approach was three-fold:

  • A social media foundation: Pomponi explains, “We chose Twitter as the driver of our social media strategy because it’s the best social tool to tell a story in real time.”  The group  coordinated with Twitter to secure the @SFWish and @PenguinSF handles. They pointed all followers to one URL. The company worked with partners like Simply Measured to measure social media activity.

  • A  twitter script: Pomponi adds, “We had a plan of what would be Tweeted every day leading up to the event, so all the key players had the same message.” They kept followers engaged with photos like Batkid’s ride (a Lamborghini with a Batman decal) and dastardly Tweets from the Penguin.    

  • Staffing and documenting: A flock of staff members, including two traveling with Miles, photographed the event and tweeted about key moments. A staffer took the photo that was retweeted by President Obama.      

A boomerang of good

The outpouring of gifts toward Miles was such that his parents chose to pay it forward and start The Batkid Fund to support sick children. All donations go to three organizations that helped Miles during his cancer battle: Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish, Ronald McDonald House of Oregon and SouthWest Washington and Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center.

“Volunteer inquiries, wish referrals, and donations are up. Batkid raised awareness of what Make-A-Wish chapters do, and not just in our area,” Wilson adds. Batkid has unleashed the potential for many to be heroes.