Truth is, there is a whole side of Mardi Gras that non-New Orleanians never see. It 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 goal. To see if I could reduce my followers' negative brand linkage (Mardi Gras = crazy and flashing) and/or increase their positive brand linkage (family and tailgating).
For those that missed out on the fun, I spent the final five days of Mardi Gras sending out tweets that included links to photographs 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 185 tweets and responded to a number of followers that made comments, re-tweeted or asked me questions.
And here is what I learned about how to use Twitter to shape brand perception:
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 6-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-throughs) 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 who wasn't following me prior to the experiment was the least active.
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.
Content humanizes. I don't have hard stats on this one, so maybe some of my followers will chime in via the comments below, but I'm convinced that my Mardi Gras tweets helped me 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.
Things will go wrong. For a brand trying to live-tweet an event like Mardi Gras, expect the unexpected. From difficulty getting in-focus shots of moving floats to the AT&T 3G network totally crapping out on me 45 minutes before the Endymion parade, 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. If you're going to live-tweet an event even close to the size of Mardi Gras, you need a village.
And last but not least ...
You can change perception using Twitter and embedded journalism. Much like reporters during the Vietnam War colored Americans' 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.
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. Product placement anyone?
Notes on samples: Demographically speaking, the samples are almost identical. On top of that, I had a "control" variable in the linkage question. Both in the pre- and post-surveys, 10% of people linked "Church" to Mardi Gras, which was exactly as I would have expected given I did nothing to link Mardi Gras to church in my tweets.
And there you have it. Yes it isn't perfect science, but the data strongly suggests that one man, an iPhone and a dream can change brand perception. For more a more detailed write-up be sure to visit my blog, Positive Disruption where I'll post a more in-depth analysis next week, @me on Twitter or send me an email.
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Tom Martin is President of Zehnder Communications, with offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He can be reached at Tom.Martin@z-comm.com. Or follow him at @TomMartin.