Last month I was waiting for a severely-delayed flight into San Francisco, and wasn’t sure the best way to get to my hotel upon a 2 am arrival. My plane had WiFi, so I asked for advice via Twitter. Dozens of people responded, mostly suggesting that I take Uber.
Among them was John Shahidi, co-founder and CEO of selfie app Shots. He also sent over some advice:
Totally helpful. And totally mundane. But then look at what happened:
That’s right. John’s message was retweeted more than 500 times (and favorited hundreds more). Mostly by what appeared to be teenagers who are neither readers of Fortune nor regular users of Uber at San Francisco International Airport.
And this is not a unique incident. For example, after Shahidi sent a tweet out to venture capitalist Marc Andreessen in March, the result was so overwhelming that Andreessen wrote:
So what exactly is going on with @John? He does have a large number of Twitter followers — 239k at last count — but I’ve been tweeted at by people with many more and not gotten experienced nearly the same deluge. Even Andreessen has a very respectable 129k, and virtually nothing he writes gets even 10% of Shahidi’s typical traffic.
“Yeah, I think I probably get more engagement than even [Shots investor] Floyd Mayweather, and he has 5 million followers,” Shahidi says. “I’ve had my Twitter account since late 2008 but this really only started late last year when we launched Shots. We looked and saw that I had around 2 million @ mentions in May, and it’s gotten to the point where I really do have an @ mention each second. It’s totally changed my Twitter experience, because I no longer can look at notifications and am very careful before replying to someone, because I don’t want to upset them by clogging up their feed.”
Shahidi links all of it back to another Shots investor, Justin Bieber, who was among the first teenage celebrities to actively engage his Twitter followers via retweets and follows. (You can read Fortune‘s recent story about Shots here.) He says that such interaction has become a status symbol of sorts among teenagers, or this generation’s version of the autograph. It’s why there are so many Twitter accounts with pen-names like Follow Me Justin.
Bieber has been a very public supporter of Shots and, in turn, Shahidi and his company have become very familiar to the singer’s legion of young fans. Just like they beg Bieber for a retweet, they beg Shahidi. And if that doesn’t work — which it won’t, given that Shahidi gets too many mentions to monitor Twitter notifications — they tweet at people who seem to know Shahidi (i.e., me). Apparently the idea is that I’ll tell John that he really should send out a message to @beliEVEvnJ or to @hotterbiebz. And maybe, just maybe, Shahidi will pass the message onto Bieber.
It’s a pretty bizarre phenomenon but, then again, I once held onto my friend’s legs as he swung upside-down over a baseball dugout to get Nolan Ryan’s autograph. So I guess it’s the same thing. Multiplied by 500.