The Inside Story of Conan and the Internet’s Love Affair

Around seven o’clock in the morning on Feb. 24, 2010 – a day that lives in social-media history – O’Brien, sitting in his living room with his core team, including his longtime executive producer, Jeff Ross, and his former show blogger, Aaron Bleyaert, opened up a Twitter account, typed fewer than 140 characters, and hit the SEND TWEET button:Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me.Bleyaert, who has his own massive following on Twitter, quickly re-tweeted it. The next thing he knew “it was like a skyrocket!” Every minute or so Bleyaert would refresh his browser, and O’Brien’s account would have hundreds of new followers. Every minute. For hours. “I’m just sitting there laughing and laughing. I’m like, ‘You guys, this is insane.’ And they’re like, ‘Okay.’ And I was like, ‘No! You have no idea how crazy this is!’ “O’Brien shakes his head at the memory. “Aaron’s saying, ‘You’re up to 250,000’ or something, and I would say, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ ” It meant that O’Brien was setting the single-day record for gathering followers on Twitter.Just as quickly, O’Brien’s team began to hear that NBC was far from happy. “The network isn’t crazy about you tweeting. They’re not sure that’s cool,” O’Brien recalls being told. His response was simple: “Tell them I would be thrilled if they shut down my Twitter account. I’d love it if that got out. You think PR’s been bad up till now? Wait till you take away my Twitter account.” Today O’Brien laughs at the old-media disconnect of that moment: He is approaching 2.5 million followers.