Story of a Hashtag: #TeamTrees
If you’ve been on Twitter any time in the last couple of weeks, chances are you’ll have come across the #TeamTrees hashtag. Since it went viral on October 25th, #TeamTrees has been one of the hottest hashtags around – a feat that is especially notable given that it has nothing to do with politics or pop culture. Oh, and it’s almost universally popular to boot.
So what is #TeamTrees?
In a nutshell, #TeamTrees is the brainchild of YouTuber Mr. Beast, who announced a campaign on October 25th to plant 20 million trees. Well, not all by himself: the actual planting will be facilitated by the Arbor Foundation, which partnered with Mr. Beast for the campaign. Mr. Beast’s role is actually to raise the $20 million necessary for the campaign – an amount that math fans will already have realized comes out to $1 per tree.
While that amount of money may seem like a heavy lift even for a YouTube star, the campaign has caught fire in the minds of the tree-loving Twitterati. At the time of writing, #TeamTrees had raised almost $13 million in just under two weeks. By contrast, Joe Biden – erstwhile front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination – raised just over $15 million over the whole of the last quarter.
In many ways, the response to the campaign represents the perfect merging of several trends and ideas that hold considerable sway among a sizeable online cohort: the growing influence of social media stars on popular culture; grave concern over the climate and future of the planet (best represented recently in a huge groundswell of online support for Greta Thunberg); and the belief that some of the planet’s thorniest problems can be solved if enough people come together and crowdsource a solution (especially if some of those people are billionaires – on which, more later).
How long has #TeamTrees been around?
In its current iteration, the hashtag essentially sprung to life on October 25th. At midday (PST), the hashtag was virtually unknown – it had seen no usage in the month previous. But by 12:30, following Mr. Beast’s announcement, which didn’t even use the hashtag, the concept was already trending.
But note the use of “current iteration” above. While #TeamTrees may be new to most of us, its first recorded use was all the way back in 2010:
Between then and the launch of Mr. Beast’s campaign, it was used a handful of times a year, mostly by people sharing their enthusiasm for a different kind of plant:
#TeamTrees Goes Over the Top
How you choose to define the “top” for #TeamTrees depends on what metric you consider to be important. If you’re only interested in virality, then the term’s top indisputably arrived just one day after it launched, on October 26th, when the term was mentioned more than 125,000 times:
However, if you’re interested in the results of the campaign (otherwise known as the money collected), then it’s the second peak, on October 29th, that should be of most interest.
The reason: that’s when people were talking about the two biggest donations the campaign has received to date, from a couple of high-profile entrepreneurs/billionaires.
First, one Elon Musk weighed in:
For those keeping score at home, that’s a $1 million donation from the man who made his money with PayPal, and is making quite a bit more with Tesla.
Then, Shopify founder and CEO Tobi Lutke got in on the act, besting Musk’s donation by one whole tree/dollar. To date, this remains the single largest donation that the campaign has received.
Between them, Musk and Lutke have donated almost one-sixth of the funds collected by the campaign to date. However, even with a roster of large donations from the likes of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki ($200,000) and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (two separate donations totaling $350,000), the majority of #TeamTrees’ donations have come from members of the public.
To that end, the brains behind the campaign don’t appear to be finished yet. Even as the initial peak of interest seems to have waned, #TeamTrees has some other tricks up its sleeve:
We may not have heard the last of this campaign yet – and imitators are sure to attempt to follow. Whether they’re successful or not, #TeamTrees’ ability to harness social media’s viral potential to awesome effect means the world will be a greener place, in the blink of an eye.
Want more data-driven analysis of social media phenomenons? Read our previous Story of a Hashtag post on #MoscowMitch, check out our analysis of the recent partnership between the NFL and Reddit and catch up on the latest edition of The Labs Report.