Case Study

How Ariana Grande won Twitter in 2018

Ariana Grande is one of the biggest pop stars of her generation, and with the release of her single and accompanying music video for “Thank U, Next” in November 2018, she executed the perfect promotional strategy on Twitter, all while remaining authentic and engaged with her fans and followers.

Ever since Grande joined Twitter in 2009, she’s made a point of thanking fans who engage with her on the platform. From answering questions about tour dates to responding to fans talking about a song that got them through a tough time, she regularly slides into the replies of her supporters. Ten years, five albums, and multiple number-one debut singles later, her connection with fans is as strong as ever, the only difference being she now has more followers to reply to — 61 million and counting — and was the fifth most Tweeted-about musician of 2018.

By teasing lyrics, sharing exclusive behind-the-scenes content, and engaging with her online community, Ariana Grande won at Twitter with the release of her romcom-inspired music video for “Thank U, Next” — here’s how her monthlong countdown played out.

Teasing the lyrics

Grande Tweets frequently — replying to fans, commenting on her personal life, and publicly responding to criticism and accolades alike — so when she began sharing snippets of language about love, patience, and pain on November 2, fans were quick to speculate the meaning. It wasn’t long before Grande’s legion of superfans, aka “Arianators,” guessed that the Tweets were lyrics, ramping up excitement for a new song or album. “Thank U, Next” the single debuted the following day, but the conversation didn’t end there, as fans continued speculating what the accompanying music video would look like in the weeks after the release.

Replying to fans

Twitter is the place where conversation happens, and Grande leaned into the conversation in the days following her initial “Thank U, Next” Tweets by replying to and Retweeting fan reactions. According to Jackie Augustus, head of digital for SB Projects, Grande’s management company, the artist is “keenly responsive when [fans] have questions or are confused, as she cares that we're as transparent as possible." Grande also knows when to join in on the joke — when one set of lyrics from the single sparked a wave of memes, she didn’t hesitate in sharing some herself.

Sharing a trailer

Although the “Thank U, Next” single dropped on November 3, there was almost a month of teasing and speculation before the accompanying music video release. On November 26, Grande shared a trailer for the video on Twitter, dripping with references to the 2004 cult classic movie “Mean Girls.” The 47-second trailer featured some of the movie’s actors, as well as singer Troye Sivan and comedian Colleen Ballinger. To say the internet thought it was fetch is an understatement — the trailer quickly racked up 14.5 million views and nearly 900,000 Likes.

Going behind the scenes

Photos, video clips, and personal insights that demonstrate the inner workings of a finished product are a great way to delight and intrigue fans. Grande accomplished this by sharing photos of the video cast on set and in costume after the trailer dropped, and replying to questions from followers about the creative process.

Getting specific

Tantalizing fans and teasing out content through an almost monthlong countdown is one way to ensure Stan Twitter is talking about you, but it’s important to share concrete details, too. The day the video was due to be released, Grande took to Twitter to reassure fans it was on its way and provide exact details for when they could expect to view it.

Engaging with idols

It’s nice to know that even with multiplatinum records and millions of followers, one of the world’s biggest pop stars can have a fangirl moment or two, just like the rest of us. In a “stars, they’re just like us” moment, Grande showed her relatable side when responding to Tweets from celebrity fans of the single, including Mark Hamill and Reese Witherspoon. Seeing an idolized figure publicly praise their own idols is humanizing and endearing, plus it’s great for fans to watch conversations unfold between people they admire.

The #thankunext hashtag was used over half a million times during November, and Ariana was mentioned by over 4 million unique Twitter accounts, with “Thank U, Next” memes, GIFs, and commentary flooding timelines across the world. "Ari is the queen of a tease and a countdown,” Augustus says. “She knows what to give [fans] in pieces to keep them on the edge without giving too much away. It's an art.” 

After the release of the video, “Thank U, Next” shot back up the Billboard Hot 100 to retake the number-one spot, and Grande made history becoming the female artist with the most US streams in one week. “Every time Ariana engages with her fans, it feels like a mini-event or exclusive party — you never know what might happen and you always want to be there for it,” says Kevin O’Donnell, manager of music partnerships at Twitter.

“Music fans have an ever-expanding array of ways to consume content from the musicians they love — keeping their attention focused is harder than ever,” O’Donnell says. Ensuring fans are informed and inspired helps signal that there is a massive, newsmaking moment about to happen, and they’ll not want to miss it. Inspired by Ariana Grande? Try responding to fans and sharing juicy, behind-the-scenes details to keep everyone talking about your latest project.

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