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Case study: 11,000+ Facebook Shares for chickens in sweaters

February 4, 2013

Chickens in sweaters

Behold our fowl-weather friends.

A pair of chickens, Papoo and Chalmers, sport colorful sweaters while braving a snowy back yard. Birmingham market Freshfully shared the photo of them on its page, quickly racking up more than 11,000 Shares, close to 1,400 Likes and hundreds of comments. [Note: Freshfully is one of my clients.]

It’s not often that average barnyard animals — even nattily dressed ones — go viral.

Their owner, Kim DeBord, is an artist in Ann Arbor, Mich. She and her husband Zach bought the hens in the summer of 2007 while living in Chicago, collecting eggs daily.

“My mother, Mary Jackson, usually knits someone in the family something for Christmas,” Kim said via email. “She made these little capes just as a joke. She followed no pattern, just made it up as she went.

“The chickens only wore the sweaters long enough for photos and a good laugh.”

Kim shared the photos in a January 2008 post, “New Year, Same Chicken,” on her blog Fade to Future.

She added, “Most people with chickens know that they stay warm enough on their own in the winter. They’re birds after all. They were, however, extremely tolerant of the sweaters, and it didn’t seem to disrupt their time at all. I definitely wouldn’t condone leaving them alone in a sweater.”

For the record, Kim and Zach do not have matching sweaters from her mom.

Freshfully co-owner Jen Barnett has never seen Kim’s blog or met Kim. She found the chicken photo on a Facebook news feed.

Jen said, “I tried to just share it from my friend Sarah’s wall, but because of the privacy settings, I couldn’t. So I asked her for permission to share it, because I wanted to be mindful of the chickens’ privacy.”

She has shared many photos as Freshfully on Facebook, usually of customers, meals, produce and store products. Jen shared this photo on Jan. 24 because the “chickens are really cute in their sweaters.

“And, for us, we’re all about eating locally, and it was obvious those chickens were not factory chickens but were well cared for and well dressed.”

More than 11,000 fans, including Cooking Light magazine, shared the photo on Facebook over several days. While most of the 200-plus comments are in English, quite a few are in other languages.

“I think the reason it’s popular is because we reach out to a lot of people who feel similarly about local food as we do and taking care of the animals, even if we eat them or enjoy the eggs that they lay,” Jen said.

“And I think the combination of handcrafts plus local food was just more than anyone could bear.”

Freshfully - People Talking About This

The metrics bear this out. The Freshfully Facebook page’s “People Talking About This” went from hundreds to more than 42,000 after that one particular post.

What does a viral photo of chickens earn? Sales of … beef.

(In your face, Chick-fil-A spokescows.)

“We had posted a grass-fed beef share on our page right after it, and we sold out much faster than normal to new customers we had not had before.”

Beyond sales, Freshfully has had fun with the chicken chatter.

“I’ve had several emails from people asking me for the patterns for the chicken sweaters,” Jen said.

“My favorite comment is from my friend Michelle, who said they look like gifts from their chicken cousins who they only see at Christmas.”

Kim is used to her feathered friends’ fame. “It’s funny: It finds an audience as it gets reblogged from time to time,” she said via email. “This time, being posted on Facebook, seems to have gotten the biggest audience. I do think Freshfully could have credited a bit better.”

Kim and Zach had planned on eating them someday. But they sold the hens (alive) and their coop before moving to Ann Arbor, where they remain chickenless.

“We plan on having chickens again. They were really easy and friendly, and in the long days of summer, one of them would even lay two eggs a day. I definitely encourage backyard chickens, perhaps sans sweaters.”

Papoo and Chalmers could not be reached for comment.

Photo: Kim DeBord (reprinted with permission)

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