Marketers looking to leverage Twitter beware: The company will only let you rig the system so much, as one brand recently discovered.
Moonfruit, a U.K.-based company that offers free Web site building tools, saw a great opportunity to raise brand awareness on Twitter. The company last week kicked off a sweepstakes, giving away 10 MacBook Pro computers to Twitter users that include the #moonfruit tag in their tweets. (The sweepstakes ended on July 7.)
The campaign worked, maybe too well. The hashtag #moonfruit was Twitter's top trending topic for several days, with more than 250 tweets a minute. According to the site builder, at its peak Moonfruit represented 2.5% of all Twitter traffic, beating topics like Michael Jackson, Iran and Wimbledon. Twitters also created posters (pictured above) and a Moonfruit song, which helped shape the campaign, said Wendy Tan White, Moonfruit's founder.
Then it was suddenly over. Late last Friday, Moonfruit dropped from the top of the trends list and never returned. According to the company's stats, however, Moonfruit was still emerging above other trending topics. White said Twitter seems to have removed Moonfruit from the trend's list. Twitter could not be reached for comment at press time. But according to Moonfruit's blog, "the campaign sets a dangerous precedent and could have implications for how Twitter is used and abused by marketers . . . it's certainly their right to protect their network and technology investment." What left Moonfruit puzzled is why it was censored without explanation.
Ben McConnell, co-founder of the Society for Word of Mouth (an educational network for word of mouth efforts) and co-writer of the Church of the Customer blog, said Twitter might have been annoyed by the attention Moonfruit was consuming, or simply tired of the topic. "There's not a big basket of marketing campaigns successfully launched via Twitter because, people being people, there's a natural resistance to being a receptacle for marketing messages," McConnell added. "Plus, there's no formula for creating consistent viral success."
In offering advice to other marketers launching similar campaigns via Twitter, White said it's important to "keep on your toes" as things can change very rapidly. "The difference between this and a normal campaign is that it is an ongoing conversation," said White. "This means messages can evolve over the period, but it also means you have to stay on top of it and react fast."
There is another lesson to be learned here for marketers. "The Moonfruit story is a great example of money versus gold," said McConnell. "Give away money and people will question your motives or yawn in boredom. Give away gold, in this case MacBook Pros, and they'll line up for blocks."