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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Gautrain and Tweetup On Rails: doing social media right way

This weekend I had the incredible privelage of attending the Tweetup On Rails, an event organized to showcase the Gautrain and give the public an opportunity to get up close and personal with SA's impressive new public transport entry. This slick event (reportedly the largest tweetup to date in the country) absolutely dominated the South African Twitter and Facebook communities, with a constant stream of comments, quotes and media throughout the event and the rest of the weekend. This is the kind of coverage every marketer dreams of getting out of social media, so it's obvious this team is doing something very right.

While the event caught the attention and imagination of attendees and online spectators alike, the truth is that Tweetup on Rails is the culmination of a social media strategy that is, in my opinion, a shining example to every company in the country whose customers are the public at large. I'd like to discuss a couple of points that I believe make it so:
It's all about interaction
One of the key ways companies fail in their use of social media is in their assumption that the public will care about a steady stream of impersonal press statements. The Gautrain campaign by comparison, which included their Facebook page and Twitter account (managed by Maritha Prichard, Senior Writer for Gautrain), involved constant interaction with followers and fans. These online conversations both help spread the information to freinds and followers of those involved and add a human side to what would otherwise be another cold, disinterested corporation or state entity. It is in fact this interaction with one follower in particular (@gregnietsky) that led to the Tweetup.
But information is still good
That is not to say followers and fans aren't interested in information, they're following you after all. The trick is to keep it interesting. The Gautrain's posts include many short facts about the train as well as links to any articles that appeared on their own site or others about the project. This trivia alone would make their accounts worth a look.
Liberal use of media
Ours is a generation of constant stimulation and distraction, media is key in getting a message across. The Gautrain has done a phenominal job of this, with ample images and videos available for fans and followers to enjoy. These started with conceptual/model animations, and have included images and videos of the train and sites. This keeps things interesting, and gives people a really compelling reason to stay involved, and in the process learn some of that information that would have been lost in a simple paragraph of text.
From virtual to real
Ultimately the purpose of a campain like this is about attracting real-world customers, and real-world events allow those who have interacted with the online brand representatives to network with each other and the product actually being marketed. The tweetup was a great example of this.

The Tweetup itself was also a prime example of a well organized event. Brought to life by Gautrain's events management team and Sandy Roth (Bombardier Transportation Communications & CSI Manager, affectionately known to attendees as "Ag puleeez Sandy") and her team, the elements that made it a success would apply to any event:
Good time management
The published time was 10am to 12am. All activities were well scheduled into this time, and any attendee arriving at 10 would be suitably occupied until they departed, timeously, at 12. That said, it was obvious that time was allowed for South Africans' infamous tardiness, and 'critical' parts of the event were started late enough to allow for this, without delaying the overall schedule.
Catering and music
It's not necessary to blow the budget on an event's catering and sound, but food and music drive conversation and get people comfortable so having something for guests to enjoy should be considered a prerequisite. Don't go too fancy on the foods, try to keep it safe and simple which will also help cover a wide range of preferences. Don't overdo it on volume, you're running an informational event, not a house party. All boxes ticked here with Tweetup on Rails, the only comment being it would have been nice to have water as a drink option (non-bottled of course ;)).
Know your audience
A tweetup is inherently going to target the tech savvy, The Gautrain recognized this and had free WiFi (courtest of @gregnietsky) to be used by attendees tweeting, blogging and facebooking the event as it happened. There was also a realtime tweet wall tracking the tweetuponrails hashtag, and a poken giveaway. Obviously this wouldn't have been appropriate if the attendees had been executives or technophobes, but the point is to fine tune your event as closely as possible to your audience. Also worth mentioning is that the speakers at the events obviously had some idea of the audience they were targeting, which brings me to..
Three words: keep 'em short. As much information as possible should be packed into fairly short speeches, the rest of the talk time is better spent on audience interaction such as a Q&A session. Attendees of the Tweetup were in very capable hands here with Jack van der Merwe (Gautrain Management Agency CEO) and Errol Braithwaite (Bombela Marketing Executive) delivering concise and interesting speeches, and fielding questions from the floor effectively and openly. If at all possible, it's always worth sharing some new information that wasn't available before about your product. At very least this gives attendees something 'new' to share with non-attendees, a good reason to discuss your product. In this case the new information was a glimpse of the prototype Gautrain smart card that will be used by commuters to pay for the train and supporting services.
Hands on beats hands off
There's no better way to show off your product that to let your customers use it. Giving your attendees hands-on time with the product or service will beat generic slideshows and talks every time. Having knowledgable staff (not promo models briefed five minutes before the event) is a big help as well, as attendees will likely have more questions once they start using your product. Of course for the Tweetup on Rails this was the opportunity to 'ride the rails', and an army of Bombardier Transportation rail experts were on hand throughout the event to answer questions.
Blow their minds
Not every event can offer an exclusive ride on a high speed train, but there's always something you can do related to your brand that will make the event memorable to your attendees. Try keeping it relevant to your attendees (go carts for an event focused at senior citizens is probably not going to be a winner) and brand-you don't want your event remembered for the skeet shooting, but attendees forgetting your product.  Of course if your product or service is something inherently exciting, like the Gatrain, you're covered just by covering the hands on point.
Follow up
Finally, your event doesn't end when the last person leaves. Make any media and information relevant to the event available afterwards. Photos, videos, speech and Q&A transcripts and recordings, make them available to attendees and preferably those that couldn't attend as well. Bonus points if attendees have media that can be made available this way too. You will also want to make positive use of all feedback from the event and open up avenues for attendees to provide you with that feedback. The Gautrain is STILL publishing media made available by attendees and interacting with individuals who attended or wished they'd attended, and encouraging feedback from them as well on their social media channels.

Posted via email from Matt's thoughts

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