How I Won the Internet and Brought Joy to Peepdom

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The cast of Hamilpeep stands on their diorama stage.

Last week, I was famous on the internet…for dressing colorful marshmallow bunnies in cravats and spreading them to the enthusiastic fans of a hit Broadway musical.

My friends and I made Hamilpeep. Perhaps your cousin shared it with you?

Hamilpeep was our entry into the Washington Post’s annual Peeps diorama contest, in which readers are challenged to depict a scene using marshmallow Easter treats. Two years ago, our creative team–me and my old friends Joanna Church and Kate Ramsayer–made it to the semifinals with a Sweaters for Peepguins diorama. It went mildly viral, with nearly 800 people and some knitting sites sharing the picture on Facebook.

We kind of hoped we could get this one to reach lots of strangers, too…but we had no idea how much it would take off. I invited Kate, who is also a science writer, to discuss the weird, exciting, exhausting experience of having something you made spread through the internet.

HELEN: Hey, Kate, remember that time we made a diorama of a Broadway show and it went viral?

KATE: Like it was just last week! I’m still recovering. I didn’t do laundry or grocery shopping or anything ‘productive’ this week – but holy cow (holy peep?), was it fun! And fascinating to see it explode.

Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the founding father. You may know him from your 10-dollar bill. We have realized in the last week that some people aren’t aware of it, so here’s what you need to know: It is an enormous hit, you can’t get tickets, and it’s created by a guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda who somehow manages to be on Twitter all the time.

Hey, Helen, remember when Lin-Manuel Miranda retweeted our diorama?

HELEN: I do! And how you called me, screaming, “HE RETWEETED US, HE RETWEETED US!”

Let’s back up a little: After we finished the diorama, we decided we need a social media strategy. Because we’re communicators. Our goals:

  1. Become BFFs with Lin-Manuel Miranda  (BFFs = Best Friends Forever) (it’s a thing the kids say)
  2. Personal glory
  3. Amuse other Hamilfans
  4. Make our friend Lila stop asking for pictures.

Also, I was pretty sure there would be other Hamilpeep entries and I didn’t want someone to scoop us.

KATE: We were not throwing away our shot! (at Hamilpeep glory) (That’s a Hamilton reference.)

HELEN: So Tuesday night, after the contest entry deadline, Kate came over, took a bunch more pictures of the diorama, and put an album on Facebook, with the privacy set to “public” so anybody could see it.

KATE: Our friends started commenting and sharing pretty quickly. It was awesome to see how much they loved it–the costumes, the lyric puns, the ridiculousness of it all. I went to bed grinning, because really–making scenes with peeps, construction paper and dyed popsicle sticks was fun.

Wednesday all of a sudden strangers started sharing the Facebook album!

HELEN: I was hoping it would catch up with the knitting diorama, which was shared almost 800 times–a number we thought was awesome and amazing and fantastically large.

KATE: Thursday I took on our #1 goal – be BFFs with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Can I just call him LMM? LMM.

I tweeted him the diorama Tuesday night, but I didn’t want to swamp his feed. That would be uncouth. And I am definitely couth. So I waited until I saw he was on Twitter that morning, and then typed:

Four minutes later, I glanced at my notification feed. A tweet from LMM.

I was confused for half a second–is this my notification feed? Or my regular feed? Is this real life?–and then called you. And I’m sure you remember it wrong, I’m sure I was very cool about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, another route to internet fame and glory was brewing!

HELEN: Earlier that morning, before LMM retweeted us, Kelly Diamond, a writer from the Internet-meme-tracking website Mashable, sent all three of us Facebook messages–she is a thorough reporter–asking if she could write about Hamilpeep. She did a delightful job, framing it as a way for people who can’t get tickets (i.e., everyone) to experience the show.

So Kate. You’re the one whose account LMM actually retweeted, to his 275,000ish followers. And LMM’s followers…they’re an enthusiastic bunch. What was that like for you?

KATE: They are SO enthusiastic! And it was lovely! Most just retweeted or favorited, but some added messages. Like the person who said: “The Best Thing. In the history of EVER. (I want to tag absolutely everyone I know. This is why the internet exists)” Thanks, Debbie Dunleavy of Chicago! Others retweeted with: “I’m dead [crying smiley face emoji][smiley face with heart eyes emoji],” “This is adorable and perfect. #Hamilpeep,” and so on.

It’s just plain wonderful to make people happy. And nice to get all that positive feedback too.

HELEN: I know! I googled “Hamilpeep” before we started, to see if it had been done before, and got maybe one hit, unrelated to marshmallows. Now it’s a hashtag!

Eventually it got a little overwhelming, though, right?

KATE: Pretty quickly, actually. About 30 minutes after LMM’s tweet, I started getting anxious about the fact that I had to edit a work article about El Nino and get it published that afternoon. Meanwhile Facebook and Twitter notifications were out of control. Plus, I was a little nervous about what the Mashable article would say. I’m not used to putting myself in the public eye; I liked reporting because you get to be behind the scenes. I got an eye migraine on my way to lunch, which is typically stress-triggered.

HELEN: You said you felt like you were going to throw up!

KATE: It was an excitement high! But then a Coke fixed the migraine, I got the work piece out on time, and Kelly’s great Mashable article started racking up the shares. It got fun again – wonderful and ridiculous and we were spreading joy!

What did you think of our rising fame? How did you cope with all the admiration?

HELEN: I found it really exhausting. I think it was the constant bombardment with tiny pieces of information. Every time I checked Facebook, there were more likes and comments. There were Twitter notifications. Texts from friends. By Thursday night my brain felt completely overloaded. I wanted to be excited with everyone, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take in one more person’s excitement.

After a night of sleep, though, it was fun again, reading how much total strangers loved this thing that was sitting on my dining room table. In fact, it is still sitting on my dining room table. Anybody want a Hamilpeep diorama?

KATE: There was a moment Thursday night when I wondered whether this “fame” was worth it. A Broadway news site said we had won the Washington Post contest (we didn’t). They were spreading lies about Hamilpeep! It was this sinking feeling inside: our diorama, our jokes, our little revolutionaries in cravats, had become something that we weren’t in control of any more.

Which is ridiculous, because my piece of art that I made with two friends and $60 of craft supplies is basically derivative of LMM’s actual art that he spent years writing and perfecting and turning into something incredibly special. He’s officially a genius…and now people tweet dioramas at him.

So now that it’s been a couple days, what are your ‘lessons learned’ from this social media experiment of ours? We should make a list to go with our list of goals.

HELEN: Ha! Lessons learned: If you want to be internet famous, make a candy diorama of a thing that people love. Oh, and check your Facebook messages in case someone wants to write about it. I also learned a bit about how viral news works. Two independent events helped the diorama reach a lot of people: LMM’s tweet and the Mashable story. Every other story we saw rewrote the Mashable piece.

We know now that we aren’t going to win the Washington Post contest; they were going to notify finalists by Friday, and although I did answer my phone every time it rang, it was always spam robocalls. I’m not surprised–we know of one other Hamilpeep entry and I bet there were several others. Fortunately, “win contest” wasn’t one of our goals, and I was a little surprised to realize that I didn’t mind at all about losing. It was just so fun to make and so fun to share our Hamilton love. The last time I checked, the Mashable piece had been shared nearly 60,000 times.

Oh, and remember when LMM retweeted us?

KATE: That was awesome!

The fame has died down. I only get a couple twitter notifications an hour now, instead of the deluge on Thursday. But I ran into a neighbor yesterday who said her friend in California shared the album. And a childhood friend pointed me to an article about us on a popular geek culture website. Bon Appetit tweeted us. We may not be best friends with Lin-Manuel Miranda, but we made tens of thousands of people giggle! That is a good week’s work.

Photo: Kate Ramsayer

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9 thoughts on “How I Won the Internet and Brought Joy to Peepdom

  1. So do you consider yourself to have accomplished the other three goals?

    This was not only funny but really interesting — to hear about how you felt about the process as it went along.

  2. Just to set the record straight – when LMM retweeted, Kate was not cool. We share an office and I had to close the door to help contain her glee. 🙂

  3. Hi Lila! Good question… We definitely accomplished Goal #3 – sooooo many retweets and shares and whatnot showed the fandom on our side. And I got enough personal glory to last for quite a while. For goal #1… well, we’re not BFFs, but I feel acknowledgement was a fine substitute.

  4. Quick, start selling Hamilpeep T-shirts and mugs and get a book deal. You have to monetize your fleeting fame.

  5. This was fascinating. I apparently post about Hamilton way too much, so all my friends immediately sent me links. I live in Maryland so immediately knew what it was about, but was wondering how the word got around. Awesome job! Fingers crossed that it does win. (I saw a site saying it won and was wondering if WaPo had already released the winners.)

  6. I don’t know any of you (although I’m only a degree of separation from one of you) but I would definitely buy a t-shirt. And I’d buy one for my almost 18yo Hamilton fanatic. BTW if you go to the box office and are willing to get tickets for next year, you can. We did last night for November. Not obstructed. Not $300.

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