Boston’s @biz Twitter Fit

4/17/09

I’ve been watching the Twitter dialog between @hybernaut (aka Brian Del Vecchio, founding member of the Beta House collaborative in Cambridge) and a slew of Twitter users from Hubspot about a “Tweetup” being held today in honor of Biz Stone. More widely known by his Twitter username, @biz, Stone is Twitter’s co-founder and creative director, and apparently he’ll be in Boston this weekend.

The event is to be held at HubSpot’s Cambridge headquarters, concurrent with the Hubspot.tv broadcast. The catch is that Stone hasn’t actually said he’ll show up; Hubspot is trying to use Twitter to cajole him into making an appearance—and generating quite a bit of buzz for itself in the process. It’s been amusing and interesting to observe the cordial controversy unfold.

It began like this:

repcor: Boston people: Want to hang out with @biz? Me too. http://bizinboston.eventbrite.com/ #bizinboston

Then the gauntlet was thrown.

hybernaut: I’m calling social services on Hubspot’s abuse of ‘Tweetup’ for #bizinboston. Next every car dealership will be hosting one. “Come on down!”

repcor: @Hybernaut Oh pff. What do you mean? What’s wrong with throwing him a party? #bizinboston

hybernaut: @bostontweetup I want to defend the term Tweetup (as used for community-driven events) from corporate appropriation & abuse. #bizinboston

And so it continues….. and it keeps getting better. The word “communist” has entered the dialog. Could “Nazi” be far behind? You can follow the whole conversation at http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23bizinboston.

Hubspot, a well respected and social-media-savvy inbound marketing company, has previously used similar tactics and the power of their reach on Twitter to get MCHammer to appear on Hubspot.tv when he was in Boston recently, and to get Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to stop by its office during his tour of the Cambridge Innovation Center. The difference being, they did not organize “MCHammerinboston” or “Govpatrickincambridge” tweetups to do it. This may turn out to be the crux of the matter.

So the issues are:

1. Whether a company should promote a Tweetup mentioning the “star’s” name, when they actually haven’t said they will attend, thereby harnessing the “star’s” juice without permission.

2. Is a Tweetup a community entity, not to be appropriated by a corporate entity to use as a marketing vehicle?

3. Can companies legitimately participate in and add value to the Twittersphere?

What do you think?

As the tempest in a teapot boils away, it brings attention to a couple of additional points.

1. Twitter is a hugely powerful brand.

2. This is one of many such issues that Twitter will have to contend with as they continue their growth and mainstream penetration.

The clash of commercialism versus the passionate individual user will grow as more and more marketers enter the fray. Any attempt by Twitter to monetize the stream will have to be carefully orchestrated and useful to users.

It is understandable why the company is not in any hurry to attempt to make money at this time. Why upset the apple cart at a point when growth is 77 percent per month, reaching 14 million users monthly just on the Web? It may actually be easier to monetize once the passionate early adopters numbers are diluted by the mass of n00bs arriving everyday. The larger group may not resist “crass commercialism” to the same degree.

Today is also the day that Twitter announces its OPO: Oprah Public Offering. And you would be hard pressed to find a brand that elicits as much fervor and loyalty. For example, in the Boston Twitstorm conversation, @biz was compared to Bono and Prince, and passionate users are speaking out to defend the Twitter platform in the name of the community. Twitter is all over the mainstream media, even garnering mentions in broadcast media commercials by other major brands.

Our little @biz Boston Twit Fit might be a microcosm of things to come for Twitter. But one thing is certain: Boston groks Twitter.

Tom Summit is the founder of Boston-based Genotrope and the author of the Buzz in the Hub blog. Follow @

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  • CJ Johnston

    HubSpot is ruining social media overall. Although if they didn’t do it, some other marketing firm would do the same thing.

    Consumers do not like to be marketed to, although historically marketing companies always try to find a way leverage new channels to reach their audience.

    HubSpot is going from being a neat set of free tools to track your online marketing efforts to being a telemarketer training company to teach small businesses how to hawk their wares online. This @biz thing is just another example of crossing the line until the line has eroded completely.

    A message to HubSpot: if you have some unique and valuable information then tell us about it. If someone cool stops by your office then take a picture or post about it live. But please stop trying to whore the last ounce of visibility out of social media properties because you’re ruining the experience overall.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/scottmccomsey Scott McComsey

    In this nascent, restless, swirling, twirling, exploding Social world I’m looking for those who are looking for the nooks, crannies, and chasms of opportunity. It’s these efforts which will more quickly define what Social will become. Hubspot is one of those companies. I respect their consistent and creative efforts to lead the way, especially as they are coupled with fun, transparency and a wholesome belief in the good of the Social world to come.

    In a more mature Social world, this might be in bad taste. But for now, it’s quite fun watching Hubspot, Guy Kawasaki, and Ashton Kutcher help define what Twitter can be.

  • http://www.HubSpot.com Dharmesh Shah

    Tom,

    You raise some interesting points. I’ve been watching the dialog and developments with some interest.

    Here are the issues as I see them:

    1. Should we have organized a gathering hoping that a celebrity (in this case @biz) would be there? And, should we have promoted it in the hopes that he’d join us? Honestly, I don’t understand what the issue with this is. We made it clear that @biz was not confirmed, we were just “hoping”. In fact, the idea behind all the twitter chatter was to hopefully convince him to come visit some of his company’s fans. I don’t see this as being that different from organizing any unofficial gathering of fans for any well-known figure. If we had held a big gathering for Obama fans because he was going to be in town, would that have been any different?

    2. Should we have called this a “tweetup?” In our minds (and I checked Google), all a tweetup is a meeting of a group of twitter friends offline. I think our gathering qualifies as a tweetup. We invited people we know on twitter to come join us and hang out with each other. There’s no official definition of what a tweetup can and can’t be. Not that I know of.

    3. Should we have held this tweetup in conjunction with HubSpot.tv? Perhaps not. Though, to be clear, it just turns out that @biz is coming in to town on a Friday (the day the show is held), and we figured “Hey, if @MCHammer can stop by, maybe @biz will too…” We’ve got some passionate (bordering on fanatical) twitter users at HubSpot who genuinely want to meet @biz.

    One thing I’m a bit troubled by is the criticism of HubSpot.tv. This is a relatively low-budget production, and though it is put on by HubSpot, it’s kind of just a way to talk about marketing (for those that like that sort of thing) and wind-down the week. If you talk to viewers, I think you’d hear feedback that it’s not really a hard-sell for anything.

    4. As to whether businesses can add value to social media, I have a biased opinion, but I’d say YES. I think twitter is great partly because of businesses (@zappos, @comcast_cares and others are great examples). Whether it’s to talk about product experiences, get support or lean more, users want to interact with businesses on twitter. Commerce is part of our daily lives and I think it’s helpful to discuss our connection to businesses in social media too.

    CJ: I’m not exactly sure how you think we’re ruining social media. We participate in the community as much as anyone and are big believers in the power of social media.

    Our stance on this is relatively simple: Social media is about people making connections. Twitter is a great platform. We get to choose who we follow, who we retweet and which conversations we want to contribute to.

    In closing, I think some of the issues raised are important and big but @HubSpot is sort of small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. My hope is that as we grow, we’ll have the opportunity to continue to learn and contribute.

    Cheers,
    Dharmesh

    Disclaimer: I’m an angel investor in Xconomy, but am not actively involved with the company in any way.

  • http://twitter.com/hybernaut Brian Del Vecchio

    Thanks for your comments, Dharmesh.

    I’m racing to finish up my work so I can attend the event, and I’ll write a full summary later.

  • http://www.HubSpot.com Dharmesh Shah

    For those tracking this thread, a quick update that @biz *did* actually show up for the tweetup @hubspot.

    Everyone had a smashing good time.

  • http://Www.genotrope.com Tom summit

    Haha, great ending.I’m looking forward to seeing the interviews.
    Hubspot once again demonstrates the power of Twitter. Hopefully, Brian proved his point and the Boston twitteverse is back in allignment.
    All in all proving the utility of social media and
    Twitters value as a platform and a brand.

  • http://hybernaut.com Brian Del Vecchio

    Thursday I was highly critical of Hubspot.com’s plans to invite Boston-area Twitter uses to the weekly taping of their HubSpot.tv show where Twitter founder Biz Stone *might* appear. This appeared crass and cynical to me, and felt like a corporation impersonating community in order to further their own commercial goals.

    Several of the HubSpot crew–including several personal friends–responded to my criticism in public, and invited me to attend the event. In retrospect my criticism was harsh and many of my concerns were unfounded. Not only did Biz Stone show up, but the event was really quite good. Some concerns remain about these practices, but I had ample opportunity to make peace with the friendly people at HubSpot.

    So What Is a Tweetup?

    Tweetup is a Twitter pun on meetup, a term popularized in the early 2000s for events where online communities gather offline to meet in person. Meetup.com was founded in 2001 and was famously used by Dean supporters to organize locally during the 2004 presidential election. I have attended and hosted about a dozen Boston-area Tweetups in the past few years, and all had the common theme of Twitter friends meeting in person. At every Tweetup I’ve met people who I follow on Twitter for the first time.

    The key here is community–people come to Tweetups to build connections with people in a social setting, not to take advantage of amazing discounts or to listen to sales pitches from financial planners. We introduce friends who have mutual interests, and find interesting new people to follow on Twitter.

    What’s the Big Deal?

    I accused HubSpot of abusing the term Tweetup for an event that was actually something else. If you follow any of the HubSpot crew on Twitter, as I have for years, then you’ve seen their relentless promotion of the Friday event–inviting locals to join in, have a beer, and watch the filming of Karen Rubin and Mike Volpe’s HubSpot.tv show. Many firms hold informal beer parties on Friday afternoon. At Shiva in the 90s, it was called Mandatory Fun, in a nod to the awkwardness of forced corporate culture. The HubSpot.tv events have always felt to me like a broadcast version of this time-honored tradition. The fact that you’re holding a beer doesn’t make it a party.

    If it’s OK for HubSpot to call their promotional event a Tweetup, I thought, what’s to stop auto dealerships and department stores from calling their sales events Tweetups? We promoted it on Twitter, they’ll say, and that makes it a Tweetup. Also, the magic words Free Beer make everything OK!

    Also, I thought it was just plain wrong to promote an event on such speculative terms. Why stop at Biz Stone? Why not invite Bono, Barack Obama, or Mick Jagger? Because it’s unethical–and probably illegal–to promote an event using someone’s name without their permission, when they’ve made no commitment to attend. When Tipjoy founder Ivan Kirigin built a “Happy Birthday Shaq” site to promote Tipjoy back in March, Shaq quickly asked him to shut it down. [1] Unfortunately the success that HubSpot has had with this practice is going to embolden them–and others–to do more of the same. As Twitter becomes increasingly mainstream, I can easily imagine a Twitter-powered mob of thousands gathering, demanding the appearance of Tom Brady at someone’s wedding.

    The atmosphere will be quite different when the target–I mean “guest of honor”–doesn’t show up.

    Why So Critical of HubSpot?

    HubSpot’s business–as I understand it–is inbound marketing software. Their tools help businesses improve their presence on the web using SEO and social media. They promote inbound marketing (people finding you) as a modern, enlightened alternative to direct marketing (everything from junk mail to cold calling).

    Everything HubSpot does to promote their own business and events is instruction for their clients: this is how it’s done. Their techniques become de facto standards, and so I feel it’s important to challenge their ethics and discuss their techniques before everyone copies them.

    I had seen at least a half dozen other invitations extended to @biz from other Boston area Twitter users, but as a marketing company, HubSpot has perfected this technique–they had dozens of people joining the rally, simultaneously calling for @biz to attend, and spreading word of the event across the Twitter network. It’s impressive–when the HubSpot guys publish a book on inbound marketing, there will surely be a chapter on invite-mobbing. Or whatever they call it.

    Was It A Tweetup After All?

    By my own definition, I would have to say yes. Not counting HubSpot employees, I met about a half dozen people I had previously known only from Twitter, and had some great conversation–only half of which was about Twitter and Tweetups. The HubSpot team didn’t pitch or try to control the conversation–they merely provided a place and a friendly atmosphere for people to meet and talk. And Free Beer. Local burger shop B.Good showed up with six trays of “sliders” after Biz raved about their vegie burger Thursday evening. The event paused for about a half hour for the taping/live streaming of the show, but returned to its previous form instantly.

    It was a shame that Biz could only stay for a half hour, and a large portion of that time was dominated by HubSpot, including the recording of a quick interview that was not part of the live broadcast. It’s always challenging when organizing events like this to ensure that everyone gets some time to talk with the celebrity guest.

    All told, though, it was the best Tweetup I have attended in a while.

    [1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=504599

    Note: this was also published on my blog.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    I’ve published a summary/wrapup of the whole discussion around the Hubspot #bizinboston event here:

    http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2009/04/20/hubspot-hybernaut-bury-the-twitter-hatchet-for-now/.