Racing fans – cars or bicycles – are familiar with the concept of drafting – travelling close behind another vehicle to reduce wind resistance. The concept is sometimes applied to marketing by savvy practitioners who use the spend of others to multiply their own impact in public consciousness. In recent months, I’ve noticed a growing use of twitter by companies – including research firms – to exploit the new social channel this way.
It’s not new. Back in the days when Comdex was the biggest, most interesting show in IT, one could sometimes find the most intriguing offerings, especially from small firms with correspondingly small budgets, in hotel rooms nearby. Rather than paying the sizable fees required to participate officially, these nimble players bypassed the show entirely and found ways to reach attendees and draw them to parties, chili cook offs, etc. to get their message across.
The age of twitter, and especially hashtags, has created a new opportunity. If you don’t know what a hashtag is, they are words preceded by the # sign, a convention that allows an event – like #IBMPulse or #OracleOpenWorld – to sustain what is known as a tweetstream of messages the community interested in the event can follow. (Hashtags are used for other topics too, but that’s not relevant here.)
How does the crafty practitioner use hashtags to get an extra kick for his or her message? By putting out their own tweets and using someone else’s hashtag. Examples: tweeting about your competing product during a vendor show, or in a tweetstream that has sprung up around an event like a product intro or news story.
Analysts can jump into a tweetstream to promote their own work inside the stream around a vendor’s show. I’ve done that myself – it’s a great way to find new followers.
Some have gone further still – lately I’ve seen twitter-savvy analysts like Ray Wang promote their firm’s work even inside a competitor firm’s event tweetstream. It’s a great way to find the right audience at the right time, and another powerful example of how twitter and other social media challenge existing business models.
Update: in the day following this post, I observed two more instances at the Gartner MDM event I was attending. Another independent analyst used the hashtag to add commentary – on the mix of attendees of the event, which he was not present for. And a vendor, not sponsoring, retweeted something I said, adding a link to their own website. What’s your opinion of these tactics? Leave your comments below – I hope to have a lively discussion.