The Tweet That Was Retweeted 8,000 Times and Other Stories

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan triggered a tidal wave of tweets. It also generated a groundswell of sympathy apart from aid initiatives by individuals and brands alike.

Here is a comparison of three of them.

His tweet was one that crossed my tweetstream as a RT. I retweeted it like many others already had. Over the next few hours, I saw it retweeted on my timeline via various users from different countries. Dave’s Twitter bio describes him as “Xcode geek at Apple”, nowhere close to being a Twitter celebrity with a huge following.

A couple of days later, I went back and checked the tweet’s reach.

It had been retweeted an astonishing 8,000 times, reaching probably millions of Twitter users across the world.

Lesson: Content is key to connecting with the online community and by content I don’t just mean text, but a crafted digital experience around a social object.

Example 2: The techies at Google, whose brand is built on utility, put together Google People finder, a Mechanical Turk-like platform. Both those searching for a family member or friend, or a survivor announcing his whereabouts could post on the site.

The tool was immediately shared around Twitter. It had over 6,000 mentions on Twitter and probably a lot more on blogs and mainstream media. The site currently has over 619,000 records, though it did face problems from trolls who abused the openness of the site with fake profiles and updates.

Lesson: Utility is a great driver of online conversation. Be useful to your users, and they will talk about you, even if you don’t have a glitzy marketing campaign.

Example 3: Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, went for what I call the ‘transactional or promotional approach’… a hangover of old-media marketing.

The reaction was immediate. Bing and Microsoft were criticised severely on Twitter for trying to ‘buy retweets’ on the back of a natural disaster. It was buzz of the wrong kind. On its part, Bing retracted the promotion the same day and donated the U.S.$100,000.

The apology and blog stories about it went viral with over a thousand tweets in all.

The inferences are clear: brands can choose how to resonate with users and create positive conversation through a) relevant content at the right time and/or b) utility for the user. (I like the metaphor in this blog post by @wilsh: “Verb, reverb and amplify: Telling brand stories.”)

The third transactional approach, “Do this for us and you get that” leads to the law of diminishing returns, or worse, a backlash from an evolved online community.

What are your thoughts on this?

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