How Pittsburgh Fared Among G20 Buzz

The Effect of Social Media When the World Was on the City's Doorstep

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As a long time resident of Pittsburgh, I was excited to learn that the G20 Summit was going to be held here. International exposure like that can only be positive for Pittsburgh's image, right? You'd think so.

But depending on who you asked prior to its arrival, there were many who feared the worst. Even with reports like the one from GlobalPittsburgh.org, stating that the value of the international publicity from G20 exceeded $100 million before a single dignitary arrived, a shadow of doubt existed among many of the locals.

But what does all of this have to do with digital marketing? Well, the whole conversation got me thinking that despite the myriad of "Best Places to Live" honors over the past 15 years (from publications like "The Economist" and "Forbes"), Pittsburgh remains a challenger brand.

We all know in today's world that online word-of-mouth and social media conversations can quickly affect a brand's reputation. So as social media practitioners, we put our tools in motion to analyze the conversations and help us get a pulse on the situation.

What we learned in Pittsburgh was a bit surprising. The volume of social media conversations was much lower than expected and user-generated opinions were not as prevalent. Did this mean that people didn't care about G20? Or did it mean that the typical practitioners of social media were getting their news elsewhere? Not sure. But one thing is: G20 generated major buzz for Pittsburgh. Our tools monitored almost 40,000 posts during the two-day summit compared to only hundreds of posts during the days leading up to the G20 Summit.

Although it will be a few months before we realize the full effect of G20 on the Pittsburgh brand, these conversations helped us conclude:

  • The overall conversation about Pittsburgh was elevated tremendously even when G20-specific topics were not part of the conversation. And many of those conversations were international in nature -- nine different languages were tracked with French and Spanish being the most prevalent.
  • The positive comments outpaced negative comments by at least a 2 to 1 margin. Many positive comments related to the city's preparation for the event, major venues (like the Warhol Museum) and the city in general. The negative comments seemed to center around highly localized issues like traffic, parking and protests.
  • Interestingly, major venues for G20 events benefited most from blog mentions and comments, while the protester conversations were being fueled by microblogging services such as Twitter.

Our two days of monitoring also reminded us of several best practices that are easy to lose sight of when things are morphing so quickly:

  • Start listening to your relevant conversations now. It takes time to gain true learnings. Listen to your worst critics and learn from them.
  • Put someone in charge of your social-media strategy so that they can be thinking proactively at all times to capitalize on a major, traffic-driving newsworthy event when appropriate. Jumping in at the last minute doesn't work. Phipps Conservatory -- where the opening reception dinner was held –- was prepared with a full online presence touting its green and sustainability initiatives.
  • Get your IT infrastructure in order so that you can incorporate a Twitter feed, or push out your agenda via RSS at a moment's notice.
  • Find a way to incorporate a strong point-of-view into your organization's blog. If done right, it can become one of your most heavily-trafficked tools in this scenario.
  • Modify your price-per-click campaign to take advantage of the buzz. UPMC, a leading health-care provider, was the only firm we saw that purchased paid G20-related Google ads. This was smart because Google had 10 times as many searches as there were social-media posts.

In the end, the G20 Summit served to remind us that in today's world, all marketers need to have a well-thought-out social media strategy in place. It's simply no longer an option not to. Will you be ready when the world shows up on your doorstep?

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Rick Gardinier is senior VP-chief digital officer at independent, full-service agency Brunner, whose clients include GSK consumer brands, Cub Cadet outdoor power equipment, Golf Pride club grips and Zippo lighters, among others. Follow him on Twitter @gardinier and @BRUNNERworks.

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