Michael Selvidge only started his job in Twilio's communications department three weeks ago, but he's already scored his first viral marketing hit -- practically by accident and all thanks to one retweet from New York Times tech reporter Jenna Wortham. In case you missed it, the Callin' Oates meme is just a phone number (719-26-OATES) and an answering machine ("Welcome to Callin' Oates: Your Emergency Hall and Oates Hotline") that prompts you to press a number to hear a song by the dreamy duo Hall and Oates ("To hear 'Private Eyes' press 4"). We spoke to Selvidge on Tuesday afternoon, less than 12 hours after the phone number went live; he told us that about 58,000 people had called the number in the 8 hours since Wortham retweeted to her 428,000+ followers the phone number he'd mentioned in a tweet from the custom-built @CallinOates Twitter account. And that number is rising fast. In the 20 minutes between our first interview with Selvidge and a follow-up, another 5,000 people had called the hotline.
We know what you're thinking: Selvidge is either a meme genius or a very very lucky communications manager. And the truth is: it's a little bit of both. "It sort of was and it wasn't [a marketing campaign]," Selvidge told The Atlantic Wire. "It wasn't planned." Selvidge went on to explain a challenge that every new employee faces at Twilio, a San Francisco-based startup that offers a paid service for developers to gain access to a robust API enabling a program to receive and place phone calls as well as handle text messages. Essentially, whether you're a developer or a PR-type like Selvidge, one of your first tasks at Twilio is to build an app using the API and present it to the company. If it works, you win a red track jacket and respect or whatever. We asked Selvidge if it was like an initiation project and he said, "That's a pretty good word for it."