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Bird on a Wire: Why Anne Clark Sat on a Twitter Handle for 584 Days
Is the woman behind @RoyalFetus crazy or ingenious?

Prince William and Kate Middleton don’t interest me. It doesn’t matter if they’re single, married, topless, or pregnant; they’re not on my personal list of trending topics. News broke Monday morning that the royal couple was having a baby and all I could think of was how annoying the impending pregnancy of the century was going to be. You don’t have to be a commemorative plate manufacturer to know there are a lot of people who get really excited about the British Monarchy. The parody accounts were inevitable.

@RoyalFetus showed up on my timeline around noon, to nobody’s surprise. At this point, you expect mock tweets the minute the meme-alarm is rung. What caught my (and others) attention however, was the time stamp on @RoyalFetus’ first tweet: April 29, 2011, aka the day Kate married her prince.

Sorry @IamRoyalBaby, you’re too late. There’s a reason you have an underscore @Royal_Fetus.  In the race to claim the preeminent royal-baby-parody-twitter-handle, the undisputed winner is Anne Clark who gave herself a 584-day head start.

I don’t know if this is crazy or genius. On the surface, it seems crazy. Someone woke up, watched the royal wedding, anticipated an eventual royal baby and had the foresight to set up a parody twitter handle, which they sat on for a year and a half while waiting for relevancy.

Five-hundred, eighty-four days, one announcement and 20 tweets later @RoyalFetus has over 9500 followers–and climbing.

There’s a history of calling digital dibs on the Internet  An entire industry was built around the buying and selling of domain names. What costs $3.99 on GoDaddy.com can one day sell for millions of dollars to the highest bidder. But that’s domain names. This type of digital prospecting doesn’t really work on twitter where buying and selling handles is prohibited and the certified checkmark separates brands and personalities from copycats and squatters.

So what’s the goal behind owning a go-to parody handle years in advance?

A couple months ago, Clint Eastwood lost his mind in Florida, chastising an empty chair he said was standing in for the president. The incident spawned loads of ridicule for the older dirty Harry, along with the parody account @InvisibleObama. As the election played out we learned the man behind the handle was a digital ad executive named Ian Schafer. More savvy than most, Schafer was able to parlay @InvisibleObama into significant media attention including a write-up on the NY Times politics blog The Caucus and his own story on Buzzfeed.com, where he explained his motivations.

“I had no choice,” wrote Schafer.

“Watching Clint Eastwood berate an empty chair was one of those moments, right up there with Angelina Jolie’s right leg. Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. The last episode of The Sopranos. I knew everyone was thinking the same thing. I knew everyone was going to talk about it tomorrow. And thanks to social media, everyone was talking to each other about it within seconds.”

Schafer started the account because he knew there was an audience waiting for it. The same can be said for Clark. The sole difference between the two is Schafer was responding to the moment, while Clark was anticipating an audience that only seems obvious in hindsight. 

This isn’t an account where the user is pretending to be an established celebrity, or channelling the personality of a dead prime minister. Clark recognized the high probability Kate Middleton was gonna get pregnant one day and that there’d be a whole lot of people paying attention when she did. In Wall Street speak, Clark invested in this audience’s futures.

Those who criticize Clark for having too much time on her hands really need to think about how easy it is to set up a twitter account. It’s not like she’s been slaving away for the last year and a half. The whole thing probably took her five minutes. And it’s worth mentioning Clark is a comedian who’s mined Kate Middleton for laughs before. Her popular tumblr, Kate Middleton for the Win has been linked to by Vanity Fair, Gawker and The Daily Beast. You can see why she’d be interested in reaching this audience again.

So far her five minute investment has yielded a near five-figure audience, though the value of that audience remains unknown. I don’t know Anne Clark, so I can’t speak on her goals. Maybe she’s cultivating a large enough audience to elicit sponsored tweets? Maybe all she wants is a commemorative plate? Maybe this is her idea of fun?

What I do know is Clark isn’t crazy for sitting on a twitter handle. In a world where the quality of a story is measured by the impressions it garners, where you can spend thousands on social media consultants, where TV commercials ask for Facebook likes–she’s smart.

@Annev6 @royalfetus just gained more followers in 15 minutes than I have in 4 years of Twitter use.


Vakis Boutsalis is a freelance writer in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @VakisB.

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