Interview with the person behind the viral choose-your-own-adventure Twitter thread

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If you haven’t been on Twitter lately, you might have missed out on the latest viral phenomenon on the platform: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure threads

This phenomenon was birthed at 8:32 PM EST on June 22, 2019, by a Twitter user going by the name Green Chyna, using the humorous handle @CORNYASSBITCH (which, consequently, you cannot type to tag due to the explicit nature of the handle):

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The first tweet that kicked off the complex challenge to not be fired as Beyoncé’s assistant included around 80 tweets that created hundreds of possible outcomes and has been retweeted nearly 100,000x:

The questions, based on the author’s (obsessive?) knowledge of Beyoncé’s preferences and habits, were so tricky that they even stumped actual celebrity assistants and the celebrities themselves and inspired a Twitter user who goes by @anticapitalist to create a flowchart of possibilities:

The ingenuity of the thread quickly got the attention of the media, with BuzzfeedMashableand Slate picking up the story in less than 24 hours, and outlets as huge as Time Magazinepicked it up within a few days after that. Though it wasn’t the first time a CYOA thread had been attempted, it certainly received the most attention.

Chyna Green, whose actual name is Landon Rivera, must have been overwhelmed by the amount of attention this series got because, according to an interview in Time, they* were “really just experimenting with the form, and was taken by surprise when it blew up online." Like many viral sensations that came before this tweet, it was a complete surprise.

Brands Step In...💩

Just when the buzz started dying down around the initial thread (Rivera created several subsequent CYOA’s that were popular, but not nearly as popular as the initial one), the inevitable happened: a brand took up the trend…but not in a good way:

Not your usual suspect (I would have voted on Netflix or Burger King), AppleTV stepped in to use the CYOA thread for the worst reason to engage with a trend: making a lame plug for their own services.

As you can see from the (lack of) response, their efforts didn’t quite make the grade. There don’t seem to be other brands jumping on this bandwagon quite yet, indicating that this is not a trend you can jump on without some level of “twexpertise.”

But what would a better execution look like? What does it take to come up with a winning CYOA thread?

I decided to dig a little deeper into the matter and reach out to Rivera via Twitter PM to get the scoop and they were generous enough to oblige. So, without further ado, here is the Twitter PM interview I did with Rivera (with some additional information I added from other stories I gathered from around the web and some small edits for typos).

The Interview with Landon Rivera (aka Green Chyna)

Tara Hunt: I did some digging around and saw that your IRL name is Landon Rivera, you live in LA and are a student and freelance designer. Is this correct? What else can you tell me about yourself, your training, your background, etc? (other than you are a Beyonce stan, of course. ;) )

Landon Rivera: Yes that’s correct, I did some work as an assistant.

[editorial addition: several articles state that Rivera is a student and freelance designer and I couldn’t find any additional info, but creeping on the timeline reveals that Landon is a legit stan and practically lives on Twitter: 163,000+ likes+ in just over 3 years - that’s around 130 likes/day!]

TH: Your Beyoncé Assistant thread was incredibly complex and thought out. You've followed it with two others - also complex. Do you map out the choices ahead of time? If not, walk me through creating something of that complexity!

LR: Yes the murder one I’ve mapped out as going to be dealing with time and money. For the Beyoncé one and Cardi one I did not yet map it out, but the murder one I’ve mapped out and it’ll have several outcomes .

[editorial addition: The Twitter platform does not make creating or interacting with these threads easy! Rivera didn’t elaborate anywhere, but judging by continued experimentation with the format, it takes a special brain to think this way!]

TH: I read that you got the idea from another Twitter user a while back. Do you recall who that was? And what that decision tree was about? Sounds like you ruminated on the idea for a while...why? Were you waiting for the perfect moment? Or something else?

LR: I don’t recall who it was but it was something about don’t get shot during a school shooter it was either you get shot or advance to the next level I wanted mine to have dead ends and possibly have several outcomes

[editorial addition: Rivera must be referring to this thread by @viewsfromnas, who looked to have been creating these threads for a while with some coverage, though the original account seems to be suspended:

The other thread that was highlighted in the coverage had to do with another dark subject - Intruders - which is likely why the original account was suspended.]

I recently saw it and made mine right after as like a joke for my followers who were mostly Beyoncé fans at the time.

TH: Apple obviously failed in their attempt to duplicate your idea. What did they do wrong? And how would you coach a brand that wanted to create a fun and challenging Choose Your Own Adventure thread?

LR: I really haven’t had time to go through their thread do the fact it wasn’t very appealing to me. The way I would coach a brand into creating a fun challenging chose your own adventure would to be not to make it just about their brand as it would be so boring. A balance of what’s going on IRL makes it fun.

“The way I would coach a brand into creating a fun challenging chose your own adventure would to be not to make it just about their brand as it would be so boring.”

TH: I'm a big fan of your ingenuity on a platform that has, frankly, lost a lot of its original experimental verve. Any other ideas ruminating over there? Have you come across any other creative approaches? (I did creep back in your timeline a bit and am pretty fascinated by your use of certain memes repetitively - you've created a cool language that goes beyond emoji!)

LR: Yes I have a few ideas and concept that would change the way people would play chose your adventure, I don’t think the way Twitter is set up would be able to let me execute it properly though.

TH: I would imagine this sudden attention is a bit of a trip! Has Ben Lashes [aka The Meme Agent] reached out to you yet? I read that you've received some opportunities. How do you think this is going to change your life?

LR: I don’t believe a Ben Lashes has reached out to me, but I’m so thankful for all the support that I’ve been given from a thread that I just did for fun. I have been going over every opportunity I’ve been offered though. I should be making a decision on which path would be best for the content and ideas I want to create soon.

[editorial addition: It looks like Rivera may have landed the opportunity of a lifetime!]

But the Beyoncé thread was mostly experimental, the murderer will mostly be logical questions mixed with a bit of comedy, and it’ll be slightly related to the Beyoncé one.

How Brands Can Bring This Level of Ingenuity to Their Strategies

From my perspective, there are three reasons why Rivera hit such a goldmine with this CYOA thread that brands can really learn from.

#1. There was true passion behind this thread

Rivera is obviously a long-time, committed super fan (aka stan) of Beyoncé. This passion shone through in a couple of ways. First, Rivera showed a great deal of knowledge about the subject. The options and outcomes were the results of really knowing Beyoncé’s habits and patterns. As Vice reported when covering the story:

“For example, one question asks if, since Beyoncé is running late, she should get ready in the car instead of in her hotel room. Anyone who chose the car (knowing Beyoncé hates to be late) would get fired on the spot because it leads to Beyoncé violently barfing in the backseat. Why? "In an interview, I think it was on the Tyra show, she says she gets carsick and Tyra was telling her to look up at the ceiling," said Rivera.”

That is some crazy level of attention to detail that can only come from really, truly, madly, deeply loving the subject! The passion Rivera has for Beyoncé was palpable. As a reader/participant, I enjoyed how much fun Rivera was having while making the game.

#2. There was no ulterior motive to making the thread

This is a tough one for brands to understand because, well, why would you spend this much time on anything that didn’t have a direct, measurable ROI or alignment to quarterly goals? That’s the thing about social and all of this squishy stuff called relationships...there are a certain number of things that humans do in their day-to-day lives that have no goals or intended outcomes but end up being things that matter the most. As I once heard Gary Vaynerchuk say, “What’s the ROI of my mom?”

There are a certain number of things that humans do in their day-to-day lives that have no goals or intended outcomes but end up being things that matter the most.

Rivera saw something cool and, just for the pleasure of entertaining and connecting with Twitter friends, decided to try it out. The beautiful part of not having an ulterior motive was that no matter what happened, Rivera would have still gotten pleasure out of putting the game together. That’s a win-win and there should be a certain amount of marketing activity that goes towards this type of experimentation, which leads me to the third and most important factor.

#3. Rivera just thinks different

Creeping through the history of Rivera’s tweets reveals that they live in an entirely different universe than I do...even though we speak the same language and live on the same planet. Hell, we likely believe strongly in many of the same things. But as I travelled back months before the famous thread, I read all sorts of hilarious commentary on the world, often expressed in crazy memes and gifs. I found myself laughing while scratching my head and wishing that I had more context to truly understand this fantastical world.

This phenomenon is best described through Nilofer Merchant’s idea of Onlyness. Onlyness is a word that Merchant coined to encompass the idea that “(e)ach of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision.”

Creativity, ingenuity, inventiveness, innovation….all of these things are fueled by unique perspectives and ways of looking at the world. In too many organizations, the crazy, ingenious, oddball point of view disappears. As Nilofer explains to The Drum, “If you're an ‘only’, if you're all alone in the world and you have a novel idea, you're more likely to give it up in order to belong to whatever tribe you sit with."

So, how do you get more ingenuitive and creative and come up with cool ideas? Allow for more Rivera in your organization and Rivera-like thinking in your own life. As Nilofer writes in The Case for Onlyness:

"We’ve not run out of ideas, it’s that existing systems obscure or deny ideas that come from people who lack organizational heft, or don’t “fit in” to a particular profile. So, new ideas don’t have a chance. As organizations optimize for productivity, they are also optimized to eliminate the incredibly messy moments that birth innovations and new outcomes."

This doesn’t mean that every oddball, crazy idea is going to go viral or bring wild success to your organization, but there needs to be room for this type of thinking and doing. And, seriously, social is where you should be optimizing for onlyness. The media is completely flexible and iterable and inexpensive to experiment with. And as long as you approach it with the passion and openness that Rivera does, you shouldn’t worry too much about being judged.

And, seriously, social is where you should be optimizing for onlyness. The media is completely flexible and iterable and inexpensive to experiment with.

Will Rivera be crushed under the pressures of new-found fame to conform to the efficiency and conformity of the tribe? Judging by more recent entries, I don’t think so. But just in case you feel the pressure, Landon, remember who you are:

Via  Giphy

Via Giphy

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* I’m using the non-gendered pronouns (they/them/their) for Rivera in this article because Rivera appears to be gender fluid.