Tweet, tweets, tweeting, tweeted. The verb for posting 140-character microblog entries on the social media site Twitter.com has its challenges. Just ask comedy show host Stephen Colbert, who last month flubbed a conjugation during an interview with “Today”: “I have twatted,” the Comedy Central star said in a segment that went viral.
However awkward, tweeting and affiliated terms have entered the events organizer's lexicon. B-to-b marketers may be slower than their consumer counterparts to pick up the new vocabulary, but Twitter has gained traction, especially in the technology space.
“You see a lot of experimentation,” said Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Twitter is one of the things that matters. You can use it to understand the pulse of the crowd and create engagement opportunities at conferences. It's really evolving.”
Companies such as Cisco Systems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co. and RSA Conference are among those events marketers leading the charge.
“We're testing it and trying to see how best to use this tool and the power it holds,” said Cathy Summers, VP-account services at PR agency SHIFT Communications, which helped introduce an event-specific Twitter account at RSA's annual information security conference last year.
Conference organizers used the tool to deliver last-minute updates and other relevant news to the mobile devices of followers of the account. Those followers could send questions and comments to organizers, creating a dialogue that provided insight into the audience's reception of the event.
“We were putting things out there and seeing what would happen,” Summers said. “It's a way to disseminate information, and tap the audience and find out what they really like about the conference.”
Twitter can serve a number of functions for marketers. It can obtain real-time audience feedback during a presentation or promote foot traffic at a trade show booth or make a last minute bid to draw attendees to a conference session, said Lee Odden, CEO of consultancy TopRank Online Marketing.
“The key is to be very valuable in what you do,” he said. “It's a give-to-get perspective.” About 90% of posts should provide material useful to the audience, while 10% can be devoted to more promotional material, he said.
Establishing a Twitter presence is straightforward and free. Event organizers invite prospective attendees to follow an account and then promote a hashtag. That short code, added to the end of all posts related to the event, allows participants to flag individual items for inclusion in a real-time feed. The feed can be accessed by anyone searching for the hashtag, creating a wide-ranging conversation.
When HP set up an event-specific Twitter account for an analyst conference held by the Technology Solutions Group last month, organizers sent notices to attendees via the site. “We're finding that there is a rapidly increasing segment of analysts using Twitter,” said Emily Neumann, director of analyst relations for the division.
About 25% of the 225 attendees actively used Twitter during the event, she said. Organizers promoted the event hashtag during the introduction to the conference and included the code on the last slide of presentations. A team watched the posts analysts made, noting questions and other comments. The feedback allowed in-person follow-up to tweeted queries. “We immediately could set up some one-on-one time,” Neumann said.
Cisco last year also introduced Twitter at an annual education and training event as a way to better understand audience interests and needs, said Jeanette Gibson, director of corporate communications for new media at the company.
Organizers of the Cisco Live event used the Twitter application PollDaddy to take the pulse of the crowd during presentations. More than 750 of the approximately 15,000 attendees signed on to follow the event's Twitter feed, and about half of those took part in the polls, Gibson said.
“We wanted to try something new,” she said. “We've noted "micromedia' is growing in importance. It's quick and instant and you can link to a blog or video. It's mobile, so it works in the event space.”
Twitter offers access to a highly qualified contact, she said, and does so in a valuable forum that blends personal with professional information. Padmasree Warrior, the company's chief technology officer, for example, established her Twitter account at last year's event and has developed a larger following than the company itself.
The company maintained its event account and is promoting its upcoming meeting in San Francisco. Twitter has replaced the event blog. “This is our evolution of that,” Gibson said. “We start small, get a success and grow from there.” M