Public Relations Tactics

Making Wishes Come True: Behind the Scenes with #SFBatkid

February 27, 2014

On Nov. 15, 2013, a new superhero, Batkid, raised the spirits of people around the world as he saved San Francisco from evildoers.

Batkid is the alter ego of Miles Scott, a 5 year old who has battled leukemia for three years. Now in remission, his greatest wish was to be Batman — and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Greater Bay Area made that dream come true.

More than 70 PRSA San Francisco Chapter members and guests experienced the Batkid magic again during a special “Behind the Scenes with Batkid” program on Jan. 28. 

The event featured an intimate discussion with the dynamic duo behind #SFBatkid: Stefania Pomponi, founder/president and chief evangelist of the Clever Girls Collective and Patricia Wilson, executive director, Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area.

These executives fueled the efforts in the social media sphere and on the ground, turning San Francisco into Gotham City for one day. 

A trending topic

In the fast-paced and always-changing environment of communications, organizers were able to craft and promote the social media strategy for Batkid within just two weeks.

After seeing a post about the Batkid program on a local blog, the Clever Girls team quickly jumped to action to assist Make-A-Wish, developing a detailed social media outreach strategy.

Pomponi and her team determined that they would use Twitter as the primary social media tool to push content out and capture the event as it happened. As this was the first Make-A-Wish real-time, tweeted event, the Clever Girls team wanted to ensure that it was a successful venture.

Pomponi’s team established and promoted the program with the hashtag #SFBatkid and directed @SFWish with their network of more than 6,000-plus influencers to help generate buzz. To extend their reach further, they even created a Twitter account for the villain (@PenguinSF). And there was a back-up plan in place for a Twitter chat the morning of the event to launch the hashtag, but by then, it was already trending big time.

Once #SFBatkid went viral, the traditional media became interested in covering the story to the extent that camera crews and reporters camped out in the lobby of the Make-A-Wish office. This resulted in the first-ever pre-wish press junket for the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area Chapter, and every major local news outlet attended. 

Wilson had originally hoped that a few hundred volunteers would support Miles. By Nov. 15, however, more than 12,000 people had signed up to help make his wish come true.

Even with excitement building in anticipation of San Francisco becoming Gotham City, nobody could have imagined what would actually transpire that day.

A social story

Throughout the day, Miles, aka Batkid, rode in a donated “Batmobile,” a black Lamborghini with Batman logos, as he jumped into action to save a damsel in distress, prevent The Riddler from robbing a bank and rescue the San Francisco Giants’ mascot, Lou Seal, along streets packed with thousands cheering him on.

Many people in San Francisco played their part in turning the city into Batkid’s Gotham City. Even the San Francisco Chronicle released a special print edition, Gotham City Chronicle, with articles by Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Beyond San Francisco, the event captured the fascination of many across the world and the Internet as everyone rallied around Batkid.

Local sports teams, numerous celebrities, local businesses and police departments all chimed in during the event with warm wishes for Batkid. The International Space Station sent a “Hooray for Batkid” message via Twitter, and President Obama sent his first-ever six-second Vine video in support of Batkid, further demonstrating the reach.

Twitter propelled the Batkid event to obtain almost 2 billion overall social impressions and, later, Hootsuite users voted the event as the top social media moment of 2013.

“I’m sure you’ve all had clients say, ‘We want that to go viral,’ said Pomponi. “We at Clever Girls Collective believe that ‘going viral’ is not a strategy — it’s an outcome that can happen if you have amazing content to start with.”

Batkid was on every television network, including CNN, on the day of the event. There were 18,000 news clips, according to Make-A-Wish. But the organization said that they don’t have a way to tally all of the in-kind donations.

Wilson offered a simple explanation on why she thought the #SFBatkid strategy was so successful. “We stayed focused on making Miles’ wish of being Batkid come true, while trying to give him back a piece of his childhood that he missed while in treatment,” she said. “It was not to make money or for the publicity.”

She added, “This wish family is precious and loving and really didn’t want the spotlight and shied away from it. And there was something genuine about that.”

Mostly, Miles inspired all of us to believe in superheroes — even if it was only for one day.

5 Social Media Lessons from Batkid

  1. Realize that amazing content is the essential ingredient for a successful social media campaign.
  2. Understand that going viral is not a strategy but is an outcome from having engaging content.
  3. Bring together social and traditional media platforms to produce results.
  4. Believe in your content and evaluate its value at the start of a campaign.
  5. Be creative about how to share your content and consider who will engage with it. 

Batkid by the Numbers

Source: Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area

  • People who responded to volunteer via our website: 16,077
  • Number of #SFBatkid/#Batkid tweets generated (through Sunday 11/17): 545,576
  • Percent of tweets coming from outside the United States: 13 percent
  • Number of countries that discussed Batkid: 117
  • Percent of “positive” tweets: 96 percent
  • Number of Instagram photos with #SFBatkid: 16,000


Emily Powell is a senior on-site communication manager in San Francisco with Katz & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in strategic communications, public involvement and community relations. Twitter: @EmPowellSF
Email: epowell at


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