Mar 18, 2024
13 min
Episode 2

Break The Internet: Khalid El Khatib: A Christmas Itinerary That Broke the Internet

Khalid El Khatib  00:00

I landed in San Francisco six and a half hours later to 1000s of notifications to tweet at my mom had gotten a ton of traction and from there really took off.

Ben Kaplan  00:11

Break The Internet tells the behind the scenes stories of instant cultural trends, social media sensations, buzzworthy, memes, viral videos and global movements, and the people who create and amplify them. Each episode features a top influencer creator, thought leader or celebrity, the ones who not only capture lightning in a bottle, but can also recognize it, enhance it and ultimately unleash it to the world. So what does it take to create click worthy and share worthy moments that trigger emotions and spread like wildfire? And who are the influencers with the unique skills to light the spark? Break The Internet

Tom Cain  00:55

today we're speaking with Khalid El Khatib. Khalid El Khatib. Here we are talking with Khalid El Khatib. I have colored now, you may know Khalid from his viral memes, thought provoking articles or his unexpected plunge into Internet startup. But today, we aren't here to talk just about his achievements as a writer or digital content creator. Today, we're going on a viral journey that delves into the heartwarming world of a simple family tradition that accidentally broke the internet.

Ben Kaplan  01:26

Welcome to Break The Internet. I'm chatting with Khalid El Khatib. And you're famous Khalid. I mean, hey, you're famous, but you're famous because your mom is so famous some so that you're even recognized on the street. So tell me how did you Break The Internet by leveraging the virality of mom in Iowa?

Khalid El Khatib  01:47

Yeah, sure. So I we're a package deal. So I sort of joke that it's like Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian, Kendall, I made that chili myself. But first, like, I'm the senator, not the momager. So in mid December of last year, I was flying to San Francisco for a work trip and was just two weeks before Christmas. And every Christmas I go home to Iowa, where I'm from and based in New York, but fly home to Iowa. And my mom sent what she does every year, incredibly detail rich itinerary of how we'd spend every single day. Really laser focused on what we'd be eating. And because it's Iowa and because my mom is sort of, she calls herself the Christmas not really, really obsessed with Christmas, we eat a lot. And so just before the plane took off from New York to San Francisco, I was going to San Francisco for work that day. I tweeted to my like 25,000 or 30,000 followers, a screenshot of my mom's itinerary she thought people would enjoy it.


So he posted that list on Twitter and to say Mom's got this is a massive understatement. She spells everything out from the detailed timeline to bed types of snacks and bowls are going to be in the room a long list of activities


breakfast, a big French toast, big bacon hashbrowns fruit mimosas, coffee snacks, taco dip Smokies wrapped in bacon Smokies wrapped in crescent rolls, Spinach artichoke dip, oh my god.

Khalid El Khatib  03:06

And it just so happened that there was no Wi Fi on the plane, the Wi Fi was broken. And so I landed in San Francisco, and under six and a half hours later to 1000s of notifications. So hopefully I hadn't been canceled. And it turned out the opposite was true that the tweet of my mom had gotten a ton of traction. People were immediately obsessed with her and her obsession with the holidays and with our kids coming home and from there really took off we like literally in the days that followed did a media tour that culminated with my mom appearing in a viral performance or performance appearance on today's show where she met her hero, Hoda.


We've got a special boost this morning. I understand. This is for a sweet surprise for mom who is dominating Christmas.


Yeah, she has no idea she thinks she's about to chat with her local NBC affiliate. In fact, she can't hear us right now. She has no idea the whole country is watching. Hey, Janet, can you hear me? Yes, I can. Okay. Hey, Jana, we have a surprise for you. This is not K WWL.

Ben Kaplan  04:14

Around 150,000 likes millions of impressions, at least nine or 10 million and counts and even helping the today's show itself go viral because they're active on TikTok. And this is one of their most popular TikToks of all time featuring your mom, what were you thinking? What was it like for your family? what point did you tell mom? Did she kind of get it? Is she a social media savvy person? What was that conversation like and what was it like around the holidays back in last year? Yeah.

Khalid El Khatib  04:40

My mom is not super social media. She's not on Facebook, one of the few moms that's on Facebook. She has an Instagram to follow me and my sisters. And she said that she only uses she only has a Twitter account so she can know what I'm doing when I don't call her. Okay.

Ben Kaplan  04:54

It's like when I have some update challenges. I go on Twitter. Okay, got it. Got it.

Khalid El Khatib  04:59

Exactly. Exactly. And so certainly not an expert and not under datetime, non digital native. The response, the response shocked me. So you know, I've worked in marketing and communications for 15 years, and I've navigated a lot of press before. I've done a lot of press myself. And from like, the minute I set foot back in Iowa, or from the minute I sent that tweet, actually, all the way through the holidays, I have like a war room in my childhood bedroom, just fielding this onslaught of press requests, and constant social media outreach. So like we did, we did NPR, we did ABC News. We did today's show, we did a series of blogs, people were reaching out asking if they could send us cookies, local farmers were sending us cheese for the holidays. So it was a sort of level of interest that I had not experienced. And it continued to sort of blow my mom away. It was a wild ride. And she you know, she loved almost every minute of it.

Ben Kaplan  05:54

Take me through. So just the timeline and how fast this spread is one of the things like we love studying and Break The Internet. So you're going on this cross country flight, you're gonna be this long flight, you kind of queue up the tweet, you don't have Wi Fi you land down that your phone's kind of exploded, how fast was it where it started appearing? And other things like how fast are we talking media appearances? Other pick it up at the store? Like where's it going? How does it spread? Until you know how fast were you on The Today Show? What was the pace? Like

Khalid El Khatib  06:19

I think I think two things so one people picked up on it almost right away. So you know, I think one of the reasons that between went viral is there were a couple of high profile Twitter followers that I've had for a while for CTN is one of them. And so Chrissie retweeted the initial tweet. And that definitely, you know, gave it some daytime legs. And then a number of reporters that who followed me for a number of years again, as someone who has written for multiple publications and worked in the communication space, I've had some media followers and so they sort of helped elevate it and get the ball rolling. And then people started to reach out from publications. And then I think two things really accelerated from there. One my mom like not done much press, if any in her entire life, and is like a natural born talent like is born for TV.

Ben Kaplan  07:03

She's personable she's fun. She's looks like the mom, to quote some of your Twitter responders, the mom that you want to adopt you she's out of central casting, they were going to cast like Iowa mom for Christmas.

Khalid El Khatib  07:15

Yeah, for sure. Like I say like all the time, people will go viral. And then you learn they're like a horrible person or this incredibly problematic task with my mom, what you see is what you get, like growing up, all my friends were like, I love your mom so much. I wish she was my mom. And you know, I said actually, I said on today's show, you're in one of two camps. Either you have a mom like mine, who you're just obsessed with and makes you feel so special every time you go home, or you want a mom like mine. And so, you know, I think that that really, you know, continued to sort of capture the attention of everyone. And people follow that along with our my whole 10 days home in Iowa. My mom was cooking quintessential Christmas things that we were doing in less than one town, which feels very much like a Hallmark movie or a hallmark town. And then the other thing is, if you remember in Christmas of this year, there was this sort of catastrophic cold wave that swept over the whole country that was unbearable. So both in Iowa, and there were mass, you know, related cancellations to flights, especially on Southwest Airlines. And so a massive number of people more than in many, many other years. Previously, were missing the holidays with their family. They were suffering through 12 or 24 hours in airports. And I think people were looking for a really positive story and it captured their hearts and their attention. They didn't have much to do they were sitting at the airport living vicariously

Ben Kaplan  08:31

through your mom's Christmas offering. Right? Yeah,

Khalid El Khatib  08:35

I mean, and I was tweeting a lot of food pictures to which I think you know, as b It's airport fit.

Ben Kaplan  08:39

So this happened last Christmas more months later. Now what has been the effect on you, your mom, your family? Is she feeling pressure for Christmas this year to kick it up a notch? Now that she's famous for that? What has been the result?

Khalid El Khatib  08:54

Yeah, I think multiples of one she continues to get recognized in public as Dubai. So like she'll be grocery store someone will bring her up and say, Hey, are you the Christmas mom, or you know, when she's going to a doctor's appointment or out getting her haircut or the equivalent? I you know, I live in New York, 9 million people or something like that. And people will come up to me on the street, recognizing me from Twitter from from my mom's viral appearance on The Today Show. And so that's happening. There are other things that sustained interest and momentum around everything that my mom does. So she came to visit me in New York in February, we went back on the Today's show was people were super excited about we went to a bunch of restaurants and bars and Broadway shows and the mom was in town and she got recognized and a couple of those. And then when it comes to Valentine's Day, Easter pride, which is happening right now, I'll tweet either you know, an itinerary or meal that my mom is preparing back home or a care package that she'll send me or I've teased out. I'm going home to Iowa for the Fourth of July. The itinerary that she's building for that and the like. All of those tweets get significant attention.

Ben Kaplan  10:00

Is there any part of this that gets quoted I mean, just to give you like a sample here it's like Wednesday traveled to going in the afternoon the hallmark of the Midwest going to brewery for late lunch or bread and Vine or dinner out try pepper sprouts, or Morocco. Grandma could babysit or cocktails at the Julian great old fashions. Otherwise dinner at home, will bourbon glazed pork tenderloin for dinner with a company that's what parts resonate with people do people quote parts of it or do people like no dishes? Like how did that glaze bourbon pork turnouts?

Khalid El Khatib  10:27

Yeah, I mean, yeah, there are some people that are like maybe a little too into it all. But yeah, let's go to know every single thing that happened. I think a couple of things. One, Gleaners being the hallmark of the Midwest, it's this small town, it's like quintessential small town, about 20 miles outside of my town, in Illinois. And so they the sort of tourism bureau, they're invited us out, we did like a little tick tock for them, they gave us a gift basket, it was very sweet. The julienne where we always go for a cocktail cocktail invited us for a cocktail. And they saw some people come in and visit. And you know, I just did a blog post on like, five reasons to visit Iowa in the summer for the Iowa board. And so you know, it sounds influencers, we weren't like, I've not been paid for any of that. And I'm only doing it because I really do love Iowa. And I love growing up there. And these small businesses, which are such a part of the sort of fabric of what my mom does every day and what I like to go home to I'm so happy to elevate their profile. It's like other people interested in them. And if they're passing through a town to go by. And so I love that people are sort of internalizing it and quoting it and hopefully supporting it whenever they have the chance to

Ben Kaplan  11:34

finally what is this whole experience taught you, your mom, your family about the nature of the internet and breaking the internet? What have you learned about the types of content that people want to see,

Khalid El Khatib  11:48

I think one of the reasons why this experience has been almost wholly positive and continues to have momentum is because we're only doing it because it's fun. And because we love each other and the holidays and spending time together. There's like no end game here. You know, we're not we're not gunning for like a YouTube channel or a cookbook, or anything along those lines. We're not sponsored by anyone. And so our our intentions are authentic. And I think that that comes across in anything that I post, you know, my mom just didn't suddenly start making chiropractic packages or itineraries. This is just like,

Ben Kaplan  12:20

because she had a monetization strategy of like, oh, let's do this. Let's launch this what this thing let's do this, let's have a program a campaign. No,

Khalid El Khatib  12:27

exactly. And then I think the other thing that's related is like the Internet can be good and fun. You know, like I again, I've gone viral for silly memes and articles that I've written in the past. And you know, even if something is pretty benign, in my opinion, it can be polarizing to people and post about my mom or anything that she does, or just like people are really nice. I think that that's a good lesson, especially in this very polarized time is that family and love and food and spending time together can make people feel good, and that's reflected in their reactions to it.

Tom Cain  13:00

Check out Khalid’s Twitter, @KMELKHAT. This amazing episode was brought to you by TOP Thought Leader. Don't forget to rate review and subscribe.

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