Twitter: A Case Study

Posted by on Dec 11, 2009 in Marketing Communications, Social Media

note: work and case study completed while at Cohn



How do you create something on Twitter that will go viral? This is the question that Cohn Marketing asked after delving into a full social media strategy in early 2009. Shortly thereafter, Cohn Marketing dived headfirst into the emerging-media wave by creating an innovative Twitter campaign, the Twitter Twongue Twister contest.

Cohn knew that to successfully advise clients about effectively using Twitter, our employees must also be actively learning about the channel. Realizing that clients may not want to take the plunge first, Cohn Marketing created a campaign that would help answer the most pertinent questions:

  • Is it possible to intentionally create a viral campaign on Twitter?
  • Can the online messaging be guided, and if so, how?
  • What is the best way to promote the campaign (or brand)?
  • What actions gain followers and engage an active audience?

The Twitter Twongue Twister was conceived as a learning experiment using Twitter to illustrate the value of social marketing and to test perceived opportunities.

Metrics for success included whether or not the campaign went viral (forwarded on to others for participation) and the effectiveness of using social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. – to reach media for additional exposure and media coverage. Success was also rooted in gaining firsthand insights that could be used in a cohesive Twitter strategy for clients.

Concept and Implementation

The Twitter Twongue Twister challenged Twitter users to tweet an original tongue twister in 140 characters or fewer. Outreach efforts drove participants to a landing page ( where they learned the contest specifics on how to participate and what they could win. Recently posted twisters were also captured on the page to encourage creativity.

Participants were able to tweet their tongue twister directly to their Twitter page via a widget on the site. This way the designated handle, @TwTwister, could be pre-populated and then automatically retweet submitted tongue twisters onto the Twitter Twongue Twister page. The contest took place over the course of 14 weeks with winners selected every two weeks based on tongue twister creativity and originality. Winners were notified via direct message on Twitter. A prize package was delivered containing a Twongue Twister T-shirt, Twizzlers, Twix, Twinkies and the game Twister.

Publicizing the event occurred via various online media to engage friends, family and clients with the contest. The entire office gathered to launch the contest. Simultaneous invitations to participate were sent via Twitter and blasted via e-mail to our various networks, and the contest was posted as an event on Facebook. In addition, the PR team conducted a full-on social media blitz to a large list of media compiled prior to the launch, which included several celebrities on Twitter.

Post-launch, tweeting, updating Facebook and publishing winners via e-mail continued. Three videos were created in support of the contest. After the first three to four weeks, traditional media outreach began, using traditional press releases to further garner attention.


The contest launched July 27, 2009, with much enthusiasm and decent traffic to the contest site’s landing page. Traffic sharply declined after three days and remained generally low following the kickoff. The top sources for traffic were 1) direct to the site, 2) Facebook, 3) Twitter and 4) Google search. A total of 681 people from 41 countries or territories visited the website, with the most people on the first day. The top referring sites were Facebook and Twitter, with PitchEngine and DenverPRBlog following them. Most visitors were new visitors, meaning that fewer people checked back more than once on the page.

The Twitter page (@TwTwister) had a total of 107 followers and 352 tweets, including internal and external tweets. Between the kickoff and Sept. 10 (a six-week time frame), 49 tweets were posted. After Sept. 10, the number of tweets declined significantly. Contestants submitted a total of 16 original twisters over the course of the 14-week contest.

Media coverage was less than hoped. Initial curiosity was sparked with some media targets, but they wanted the story only once the contest had taken off.

Lessons Learned: Marketing

1. The least amount of effort = the most success.

Research revealed that the most successful contests on Twitter were centered on retweeting, which required less time and gave immediate results (i.e., be the 100th person to retweet this and win a prize). The low number of tongue twisters tweeted over the 14 weeks indicated that having to create something was too challenging or too time-consuming for Twitter users.

2. Prizes should have high perceived value.

The Twongue Twister contest prizes centered on alliterating “Tw”: Twizzlers, Twix, Twinkies and Twister. Successful contests on Twitter had higher value – more popular items as prizes that made it worthwhile for people to participate. Prizes changed weekly or continued to grow in size or value as contest rounds continued.

3. Be flexible in your Twitter campaign

Watch and listen to your audience, as well as your competition, to determine how to get and keep your contest on top. It was quickly realized that at 14 weeks, our contest was too long, as indicated by the drop-off in participation after the first three days. Successful contests had a shorter time frame, making them more competitive. Doing it over again, the competition would be conducted over 14 days.

4. Track your campaign across the entire span of the Internet.

Traffic was measured on the website and the Twitter page itself. It is just as important to measure the level of activity on all other outreach channels: Facebook, e-mail blasts, YouTube views. Having a holistic view of the social media landscape will provide a more comprehensive review of the campaign’s success.

Lessons Learned: Public Relations

1. Time your media pitch appropriately.

The campaign provided Cohn Marketing with an excellent reason to reach out to the media. However, very little campaign coverage was received from traditional media. Most reporters chose not to cover the contest unless it became successful, versus helping us reach out to potential participants. In a future contest, initial participant generation would be foregone via traditional media until the idea took off.

2. Enlist a campaign champion.

Roughly six weeks into the contest, with mass internal participation declining, one point person (versus a group) was assigned to champion the campaign and consistently handle its responsibilities and activity. The direct correlation was almost immediately obvious. The more the champion tweeted on the Twitter page, the more tweets we received from our contestants. Having consistent internal interaction with followers provided us with the most interaction, as engagement is key to any successful social media campaign.

3. Timely topics are vital on Twitter.

The campaign champion began responding directly to Twitter’s trending topics (real-time display of the most discussed topics on Twitter) and saw a higher level of activity. For example, when Google was having temporary trouble, “Gmail” showed up on the trending topic column. The campaign champion tweeted about the issue and asked if anyone had a good Google tongue twister. Almost immediately, a response returned from @WinterPark, the Winter Park, Colo., ski resort.

4. Your audience: Whom you think you’re targeting and the reality.

Determine the type of audience your company or brand generates, and tailor the campaign to appeal to that audience. In our planning, targets consisted of colleagues, friends, clients and marketing-communications people. Next time, better campaign adjustment may be derived from monitoring who followed the contest, why they were following it and what value the contest was offering them.

Lessons Learned: Creative

1. Creating a handle on Twitter is a large commitment.

During planning, there was a handle-versus-hashtag debate for tracking purposes on Twitter. If a handle were used, then @TwTwister would be the owner of its own Twitter page and followers could tweet directly. In addition, the tweet could be deleted if something inappropriate was tweeted. If a simple hashtag were used, then #TwTwister would just be a term people added to tweets to make them searchable. However, this allowed no control over removing inappropriate tweets or spam. The handle option was chosen. The trade-off, however, was that the handle required more commitment internally to respond to tweets. It also required having a personality attached to the handle and keeping the site active.

2. The spam threat.

While you cannot control what will be said in the campaign, you will need to find ways to keep the ball in your court. For example, systems exist that recognize anyone tweeting the @TwTwister handle and retweet from the @TwTwister page directly. However, spammers identify which handles have a retweeting system and use it as a conduit to broadcast spam. Fortunately, spammers can be identified and blocked to eradicate the problem.

3. Keep information concise – just like Twitter.

Twitter is so successful because it’s so easy to use. Concise information on the Web page, similar to Twitter, is best for a social media campaign. For the Twongue Twister website, the first version had too much copy and a complicated explanation of the contest concept. A bit of editing had the page reflecting the direct and short style of Twitter.

4. Visuals should incorporate the Twitter style.

A social media campaign will stand out on Twitter when it looks like it belongs there and not on a corporate website. The Twongue Twister logo was whimsical, expressing another side of our company and separating it from our corporate identification. The look and feel of the contest correlated with the light-heartedness of the campaign. Other campaigns with an entirely separate creative aesthetic for their contests had a high level of participation.


The better case study would be a resounding success; however, by encountering shortfalls in meeting our goals, our lessons were deep and varied, and Cohn Marketing was able to gain a clear understanding of what a social media campaign entails. The Twitter Twongue Twister was successful as a test platform for various tactics on Twitter, as well as other supporting media channels. An understanding of how and when reporters want social-media-related information was also a crucial lesson. The lessons learned based on the experience are invaluable to our success as an innovative marketing-communications firm developing social media campaigns for our clients.