The ReTweet-Challenge Experiment

In late August, I employed a Twitter-based promotional campaign that intended to use the potency of viral marketing to widely spread word about the 8th Annual WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon and encourage others to donate to this worthy cause.

The telethon raises funds for the Jimmy Fund, a research and care center for children and adult patience with cancer in Boston, Massachusetts. The telethon has raised over $20 million in 8 years.

The primary goal of the campaign was to make #JimmyFund a “trending topic” — or, one of the top 10 most discussed topics of the day — on Twitter, which would give the Jimmy Fund huge exposure across wide and varied social circles, outside of the traditional New England / Red Sox market.

While widespread promotion of the fundraiser over a new technological medium (Twitter) was my primary goal, a secondary intention was to use the campaign as an experiment to (unscientifically) measure the potential reach of Twitter-based promotional campaigns that give visitors some incentive to “retweet,” or self promote, the campaign message themselves.

Also, I sought to see any negative or positive effects that such a campaign might cause. My results, I found, contained both.

The Method

To give visitors incentive to “retweet” my blog post, I offered that if (a very modest) number of people, 30, retweeted the initial blog post, that I would donate $100 to the Jimmy Fund’s telethon. Another component of the experiment was to test the potency of end-user incentive, or giving a website’s visitors incentive to promote your work or website for you.

I wrote a blog post two full weeks before the Telethon took place. I sparsely promoted it via Twitter and Facebook over the course of the two weeks leading up to the Telethon actually taking place. I wanted to introduce Tweeters to the subject, but not saturate and/or spam them with the URL.

This early promotion largely took place during Red Sox baseball games, when I knew other Red Sox fans who are already familiar with the Telethon would be Tweeting and discussing the games, and might be more apt to see my Tweet about the Telethon, thus being more likely promote it themselves when the Telethon took place.

The blog post was mostly informative and contained a few reminders throughout that if the post was retweeted over 30 times, I would donate $100 to the charity. The goal of the blog post was to read as less self-promotion and more informative and would intend to encourage visitors to donate.

Within the blog post, I employed a strategy writing the telethon’s full name often, including several variants, in order to fully maximize the blog post’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization). As a result, I saw quite a bit of traffic come into DaveUrsillo.com through Google and other search engines from men and women looking for information about the telethon. It remains a draw of search engine traffic two full months after the telethon has concluded.

I heavily promoted the blog post on the two days of the actual telethon. Promoting heavily on the days the telethon was occurring, I found, was perceived to be less as “spam” and more as a necessary component of promoting the fundraiser. In other words, people were more understanding than they would normally be for self-promotion or advertising.

The Results

The initial goal to make #JimmyFund a trending topic did not succeed. However, the Jimmy Fund Telethon was widely promoted in circles that reached outside of the usual Red Sox / New England market. Using Twitter Analyzer (TwitterAnalyzer.com) I found that my tweets alone, being retweeted by others, reached upwards of 50,000 prospected Twitter users.

My website saw a significant jump in traffic, and I gained many new Followers on Twitter, mostly Red Sox fans and Twitter users in the greater Boston area. As previously noted, the SEO component of the blog post still draws search engine traffic of people searching for information about the Telethon.

My goal of 30 retweets, which was the threshold for my donating $100 to the Jimmy Fund and served as end-user incentive for Twitter users to “do some good” and pass the message along, surpassed upwards of 90 total retweets. This is significant and is a major result of the experiment.

Experiment Conclusions

The ReTweet Challenge not only served to promote a worthy cause, it was also an experiment: the challenge itself only required 30 retweets for success.

But the nature of this challenge on Twitter turned out to be that more users were inclined to ReTweet the challenge, than they were to actually click the link, and explore the content of what they were promoting. Interestingly, most ReTweets were performed by Twitter users well after the goal of 30 surpassed.

This trend appears to indicate that Twitter users may be more inclined to ReTweet links that they enjoy or think they want to promote (perhaps even more so if they appear to have a noble message), even if they do not click the link and explore the website themselves.

This discovery obviously presents potential for exploitation; users who carelessly promote websites and links with ReTweets with links could assist the promotion of content or material that is malicious (worms, viruses, etc), or be passing along information or content that they otherwise might disagree with. As such, Twitter users should be aware of what they are easily promoting with a simple click on Twitter.

To conclude, the experiment was highly successful in promoting the Telethon over Twitter, as well as drawing significant traffic to my own website. I will certainly explore end-user incentive for promotion in the future and would recommend others explore the potency of this method also!

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