As promised, I've finally completed the long-form version of my Mardi Gras Twitter Experiment results.
The week before Mardi Gras, I invited you to “Come to Mardi Gras. My Tweet.” It was as much a Twitter experiment as an Embedded Journalism experiment. Just as reporters in the Vietnam War colored our perception of the war via their nightly reports, I was eager to see if such an embedded journalism approach could shape the perception of Mardi Gras. Specifically, I started the test with three goals:
- would the promise of content to grow my followership?
- could positively change the brand perception of Mardi Gras?
- can product placement can be done via twitter?
For those that have never been to Mardi Gras, there is a whole side of Mardi Gras that is very family oriented and looks more like the world’s largest tailgate party than a scene from Girls Gone Wild. And that was my primary goal. To see if I could reduce my followers’ negative brand linkage (Mardi Gras = crazy & flashing) and/or increase their positive brand linkage (family & tailgating). Everything else (goals and learning) was secondary in my mind.
So I spent the final five days of Mardi Gras sending out Tweets that included links to photographs (via TwitPic) I took at Mardi Gras. In my Tweets I’d give a bit of context, humor or just descriptive copy to let my followers know what the picture contained. Over the course of the five days I sent up a 185 Tweets and responded to a number of followers that made comments, Re-Tweeted or asked me questions.
Primarily my tweets were of family/crowd, parade (float/riders) and food/drink. And in the totality of the photostream you see a distinct “family” editorial angle with lots of pictures of kids, kids in ladders and families.
Over the nine-day experiment (4 days of advertising the tweetfest and the five days I tweeted) I learned a lot about Twitter and how to use a Live Tweet strategy to market a brand. And while I can’t share everything here, after all a girls gotta have a few secrets, I have included about 85% of the what we learned in hopes of instigating discussions around Twitter and more importantly, embedded journalism as a marketing concept.
So here we go... this is what I learned.
Relationships matter. To help me spread the word, I recruited my “Select Six” consisting of @ChrisBrogan, @MackCollier, @LisaHoffmann, @Armano, @BethHarte and @AmberCadabra. The strength of my “relationship” with these folks spans the spectrum from none (asked one of the others to recruit him/her) to very good (he/she once Tweeted with my six year old son as a favor). I assigned each of these helpers a unique tracking URL so that I could see how often they Tweeted, as well as the results (click-thrus) of those Tweets. After reviewing their activity, there is an almost perfect linear relationship that follows the strength of my relationships with them. My closest “friend” was the most active and the recruited Tweeter that wasn’t following me prior to the experiment was the least active.
The power is in the long tail. While I thought power Twitter’s like Chris Brogan would easily generate the most new followers or click-throughs to the blog post announcing the experiment given his 50,000+ followers, that wasn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong. Guys like Chris can send surges of followers. In fact, on the Monday prior when I sent out the “overview” with a link to my blog so each of my Select Six could get a better view of what I intended to do, Chris loved it so much that he did was Chris does – he Tweeted it. And within in 60 seconds, 43 new followers showed up. Later in the week when he “officially” tweeted it well over another 100 followers showed up. The same kinds of bursts of sign-ups occurred when each of the remaining Tweeters tweeted or encouraged their followers to follow @TomMartin.
The interesting learning though was the power of the “long tail.” Over the course of the experiment, many new followers would tweet me to say how excited they were to follow or looking forward to the tweets. In each case, I’d respond to them and included a trackable BUDurl and remind them to tell their followers. The BUDurl I created and used produced 3x’s the clicks of the most active Select 6 Tweeter. Now in fairness, Chris Brogan didn’t use his URL, instead he just told folks to go see what @TomMartin was doing, so this may not be a truly apples to apples analytical study but the point is clear – don’t ignore the long tail. There are decreasing returns due to smaller follower bases, but given the ease of engaging people on Twitter, it is well worth the effort. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen a Select 100 – I truly think my follower growth would have been significantly higher.
Consumers will follow you for content. Prior to the experiment, I had 759 followers. By my first Tweet (4 days later), I had 1,610 and by the end of Mardi Gras I had crossed over 1,700 followers. I was simply promising two things. First, you’ll see Mardi Gras though the eyes of a local and second, you’ll see the results of my “experiment.” There was no register to win a free gift, or the person who helps sign up the most friends gets a trip, no there was none of that. I just promised I’d entertain and enlighten. That is a powerful piece of learning, in my estimation. Whether you’re trying to grow a Twitter following or Facebook fans/friends or website/blog traffic, content is king. At the writing of this post, some two weeks after Mardi Gras, I’m at 2,092 followers and honestly, I’ve done very little Tweeting since Mardi Gras other than point out my Ad Age results summary post had gone live last week.
I d on’t have hard stat s on this on e so maybe some of my followers will chime in via the comments below, but I’m convinced that my Mardi Gras Tweets helped me to develop a stronger relationship with my followers. Since the experiment I’ve noted a significant rise in folks @’ing me, retweeting my Tweets and helping me when I toss out a question that I need an answer for on the fly. I even had folks express sorrow that “Mardi Gras Tom” was gone. And one reporter requested information that she could use in an upcoming article… yes, she requested everything via Twitter. Since then we’ve talked of a few other articles she’s writing and I’m sure that I’m now “in her Rolodex” or Twitterdex as it may be.
Things will go wrong. For a brand trying to live Tweet an event like Mardi Gras, expect the unexpected. For instance, on Saturday right before the first major super krewe’s parade, AT&T’s 3G network totally crapped out on me. I ended up taking pics of the parade and the next morning, I Tweeted them one right after another, the Tivo version of the parade if you will. I also had Twitter hiccups and battery challenges. So just know that technical difficulties will occur and back-up technology/plans are a must.
It takes a village to Tweet an event. There was so much I missed, from Zulu landing to Saturday’s Uptown parades to the perfect shot I couldn’t get because I was uploading my last Tweet. I had a great one of Joann Rivers on a float but couldn’t take it because the last Tweet was still uploading. If you’re going to live Tweet an event even close to the size of Mardi Gras, you need a village. Heck, I’d say any event or festival will require a village. Had I had a few more folks on the team, I could have shown a greater level of detail or could have created a Mardi Gras Tweetfest landing page where we let you follow areas of Mardi Gras or stuff like that. I could have even added video coverage to the Tweet/Pic coverage. You get the picture.
Attention Deficit. I sent up about 185 Tweets over the five days. On the post Mardi Gras survey, we asked folks to estimate how many tweets they read/viewed. 73% reported reading/viewing 50 Tweets or less. Only 8% estimated they viewed/read 75 or more Tweets (which is roughly equal to 50% of the total MG Tweet count). Twitter is like a river and folks pop in and pop out throughout the day. So if you live tweet an event, keep that in mind. Repetition is probably ok.
Lifespan of a link on Twitter. One of the great things about using trackable BUDurls was that I could pull a link report to see not just click-throughs but time stamps of those click-throughs. I’ve been playing with “lifespan of a link” for a while and the results from my Mardi Gras experiment continue to support what I’ve seen in previous tests. On average, if you Tweet a link, you’re going to see 75% of the click-throughs within the first 30 minutes. You’ll see another 10-15% within the first hour and then for the most part, crickets. The link is dead. It would be even more interesting to see this same analysis done by follower counts, ie., see how long a link lives in the Tweetstream of a power user (following 500+) versus a lite user (following <125).
If you watch some Twitter users, they’ll Tweet the same link and often the same Tweet 4-6 times throughout a day. Usually when they are promoting their own blog. Yes I too am guilty of this practice. But if you consider the lifespan of a link and the fact that folks tend to pop in and out of Twitter throughout the day, the practice makes sense and likely won’t annoy anyone, especially power users because most likely they didn’t see your previous Tweets, which are now buried in their 1,000+ Tweets a day Tweetstream.
Embedded Journalism can drive next year’s traffic. Again, while not statistically proven, I had a number of folks make a comment along the lines of the Tweet I received from @LisaHoffmann:
Not only had I successfully changed their perception, but in showing them a side of Mardi Gras they had never seen before I enticed them add Mardi Gras to their travel consideration set. Think about that. I didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on an ad or fancy brochure. I just needed Twitter, an iPhone and my own time.
If you’re a festival, destination or hell even a movie or concert tour, there is absolutely (IMHO) a chance to use this same type of embedded journalism approach to drive traffic to next year’s festival or the next tour stop or for a movie, maybe even opening day. In fact, feel free to contact me for more detailed thoughts on this subject. I’m on the lookout for my next event to Live Tweet so I need a good guinea pig.
I think there are product placement opportunities in using content as advertising. I purposely showed a lot of food shots and as you will see in the results below, linkage between food/Mardi Gras improved dramatically. Further, I included daily “sponsored by” Tweets, which were jokes – no one sponsored this or paid me any money – half expecting to get a snarky comment here or there but not only did none arrive but we actually saw a spike in number of views of the TwitPic if we mentioned a brand name like Dominos or Michelob Ultra. Go figure. But based on what I saw in the data, I truly think there is a way to do product placement in a manner that won’t offend followers.
Twitter is an activation agent. In the post survey I asked folks if they’d like it better if I used Flickr and just uploaded pics there instead of Twitter/TwitPic combo. Interestingly, 39% thought that would be a worse solution and 28% were neutral. When asked why they felt the way they did, the most common comment was that Twitter acted as an activation agent. My Tweets reminded them to check out the TwitPics. The second most popular response was that folks like the dialog the Tweets created. My prose gave the pics context and “flavor” that you couldn’t get from the picture alone.
And last but not least… You can change perception using Twitter and embedded journalism. Much like reporters during the Vietnam War colored American’s views via embedded reports from the battlefront, you can use embedded Twittalism (I’ve coined a phrase) to change brand perception. Here are the metrics for the key brand linkages I was trying to effect.
Linkage Before After
Flashing 57% 36%
Crazy 70% 58%
Family 19% 30%
Tailgating 9% 20%
Food 56% 70%*
Pre-Survey: sample size was 181
Post-Survey: sample size was 115
* while not a goal of the experiment, for fun I included a lot of food shots.
Notes on samples: Demographically speaking, the samples are almost identical.
Question: Pre Post
Have you been to Mardi Gras - NO: 70% 60%
Have you been to New Orleans – NO: 39% 33%
Male: 36% 37%
Married: 56% 54%
Single: 34% 33%
18-24: 14% 12%
25-34: 35% 39%
35-44: 29% 30%
45-54: 16% 16%
55+: 5% 3%
Children in household-YES: 46% 44%
And there you have it folks. Would love to hear your thoughts or comments. While I don't think this is a perfect study, it does in my mind strongly suggest that Twitter and Embedded Journalist (Twittilism as I'm calling it) can shape brand perception. If you're a company or brand interested in learning more, give me a ring or drop my an email to tom at conversedigital dot com.