information and the chatter

[From my day job]

For the past several years, Water.org’s social media engagement strategy has not only focused in growing online conversations but has also looked to leverage the Twitter API to quantify, measure, and manage these efforts. Starting with a base of just under 2,000 followers in late 2009, @water now boasts over 375,000.

One recent example was our approach to supporting Blog Action Day in October of 2010. Each year Change.org selects a global topic and promotes conversation in the blogsphere and in 2010 it was the water crisis. Water.org saw this an opportunity to further extend its reach on social media channels while educating new audiences on how the water crisis impacts peoples’ lives in the developing world.

By spending a few short hours with the Twitter API, we were able to develop a few simple applications to help us measure not only the reach of of the chatter on Twitter but also what conversations got the most traction. It all started with encouraging the use of a hashtag for the campaign and @change selected #BAD10. Our monitoring code checked the Twitter stream for use of this hashtag and logged each tweet. A secondary application then collected basic user demographics of those who were posting these tweets.

Here are a few of our findings. During the days leading up to Blog Action Day, the #BAD10 hashtag was used in over 5,200 tweets. We know that 20 of the top 25 tweets from that week were either authored by @water or retweets of our posts. What got the most traction? Not self-promoting fluff. Tweets that included interesting and provocative facts about the water crisis like “More people have a cell phone than have a toilet” were by far the most retweeted during the campaign week.

By collecting user demographics of those tweeting we were able to established new mutually following relationships. For instance, if someone tweeted for the campaign and had a quality following (not just “how many followers”), we followed them. Nearly half that time, they followed us back. In another study we did earlier in 2010 we found that when we followed influential folks who tweeted about the water crisis, fully 60% followed us. Mind you, this wasn’t auto-following, it was intentional-following that was data driven. We believe that online there is “following capital” and because it has real value, we are deliberate who we follow.

Given 17% of all tweets the week leading up to Blog Action Day either mentioned @water or were tweets of ours that were retweeted, we estimate Water.org made 18.9 million brand impressions in less than five days. Not bad for a little bit of thoughtful planning ahead of time and a daily commitment to encourage a conversation. Few, if any, other outreach efforts of Water.org have cost so little, performed as well, or were as measurable as Blog Action Day 2010.

We have reused many of these and other learnings, to inform our daily Tweets, how we select search terms for Promoted Tweets, and how we design future campaigns. While we continuously monitor the online chatter, we believe that by transforming that into actionable information we can extend the reach of our cause and build a following of people who want to solve the water crisis in our lifetime.