Madeleine Chapman interrogates Andrew Falloon as to how he managed to go so viral on Twitter.
You may not recognise his name, or know he exists, but Andrew Falloon – rhymes with balloon – is the most popular New Zealander in the world this week. Falloon was never meant to be popular, and never asked to be popular. He is the National Party electorate MP for Rangitata and has 2,000 followers on Twitter. Posts on his official Facebook page receive on average 30 likes and 10 comments. On Sunday April 14, 2019, Andrew Falloon tweeted a photo of his dad and a cat. As of writing, the tweet has been liked 478,722 times and been retweeted 75,823 times.
The tweet is a photo of Falloon’s father, asleep on the couch, holding the paws of a cat on his chest, also asleep. The caption reads:
“My Dad is recovering from an operation. Mum went out and left a door slightly ajar.
My parents do not have a cat.”
Before this week, his top media hit was a column he wrote reprimanding tourists for peeing on the side of the road. And now, with the National Party leadership very much up for grabs, has Falloon made an unconventional, but very effective, play for the top position?
I wanted to know his strategy. A first term MP cracking the social media code, drawing millions of eyes to his profile and, by association, his party. No other politician besides the prime minister has managed such a feat, and even then Jacinda Ardern has never cracked 300k. John Key tweeting “Bugger” during the incredible America’s Cup choke of 2013 received 1300 retweets. Judith Collins left Twitter in 2014 after the Oravida revelations, but returned within a few months to tweet a photo of herself standing in the same vicinity as Brad Pitt. That tweet has no likes and no retweets because it was deleted. Simon Bridges tweets like Simon Bridges.
Amping for a scoop on the new frontrunner to be leader of the opposition, I called Falloon’s electorate office in Timaru. He wasn’t there, presumably having fled a rabid media camped outside all his offices.
When I finally tracked him down, he had fled all the way to the Philippines. I grilled him about his tweet, the issue of online consent, and his definitely real and genuine bid for the National Party leadership. He was evasive, a real politician.
In the spirit of transparency, here is the full unexpurgated transcript.
Hi Andrew it’s Madeleine from The Spinoff.
Hello, how are you?
I’m good thank you. Can you hear me all right?
Yeah I can. Sorry I’ve got a bit of a delay, I’m in the Philippines at the moment.
[Long pause as I frantically check if international minutes are part of my phone plan. They are not.]
I wanted to get the official interview with the most-popular-tweet-haver in New Zealand. How does it feel?
It’s all a bit ridiculous, really. I spoke to my Dad earlier today and first of all I had to explain to him what social media was, and then what Twitter was, and then what going viral was. So that took a little while for him to get his head around it.
It’s constructed like a tweet that’s meant to go viral. I write tweets that get two likes but I think about them for a while when I’m typing them out so how long did you think about your one?
I didn’t give it a lot of thought, I put it up because I thought it might make a few people smile but never expected it to get anywhere near the numbers it has.
When people usually do a viral tweet like that they reply to it saying “check out my Soundcloud” or “check out my Instagram”. Will you be using it as a campaign tool? “Check out my electoral office webpage” or something?
Not at all. There’s no agenda. As I said, I put it up because I thought it might make people smile. The fact that it’s up to, I think, 23 million views now, hopefully means it’s done that. But no, I won’t be making any capital out of it, that’s for sure.
But you couldn’t hope for one percent of that in putting up a hoarding.
If you look back through my past tweets, nothing has ever come close to that. I never expected it to happen but obviously it’s nice for Dad that it has.
This becomes a whole separate issue. You’ve got to get people’s consent before posting pictures of them online for this exact reason. Was there any issue with your dad finding out that his sleeping face had been seen by 23 million people?
Not at all. The photo was actually taken by my mother and was put on her Facebook page originally and she sent it to me and I stuck it up as a tweet so there’s no issue of consent there.
I know that your fellow party member Judith Collins has done a few tweets that I think were intended to go viral but maybe didn’t quite. They’re obviously very helpful. Is it a coincidence that this came up two days ago and the Colmar Brunton poll happened last night? Could it be a push for the National Party leadership, is what I’m trying to say.
Absolutely not. I’m a first term MP and I’m very happy to be doing the job that I have.
That was the most diplomatic answer I’ve ever heard.
[Truly irrelevant and boring chat about chips]
Obviously a tweet’s a tweet. People just like things, it doesn’t really equate to anything. But if you could use that engagement power towards one thing as a first term MP, what would that be?
I’m not really trying to make politics out of the tweet but it certainly puts pressure on what my next tweet will be but I’m sure any tweet won’t quite live up to that one.
So your next tweet won’t be “hey guys, thanks for the like, check out my Soundcloud”?
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