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Is a sponsored tweetup really a tweetup?

This afternoon on Twitter (a micro-blogging social network populated by many people here in Des Moines) a massive discussion erupted surrounding the nature of how our local tweetups are organized. Feel free to follow the conversation by tracking the #dmtweetup hashtag here.

First, let's start with some definitions. Tweetups, simply put, are meetups for Twitter users. These events happen in cities all over the world, and are meant to be decentralized and self-organizing. By that definition, anybody on Twitter can call for a tweetup, and there is no clear "leader." Common themes are: meeting new friends, cocktails, good conversation, and a little bit of networking on the side.

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Photo via lindsayrees on Flickr: Tweeps gather at Raccoon River for a Des Moines Tweetup. 

Since February 2008 in Des Moines, tweetups have become quite popular. The last two events (one organized by Impromptu Studio in November, and one by Leslie Berg in December) have pulled 90+ people each. As this group grows in numbers and influence, local companies and venues have shown interest in connecting with the community. Recent sponsors of tweetups and Twitter-related events have been SmartyPig.com, Paragon IT Pros, Panchero's, Olde Main Brewing, Mars Cafe, Impromptu Studio and Technology Association of Iowa. (Am I leaving anyone out?)

The definition of sponsorship is that these companies provided booze, food, a venue, or all three things.

Some facts: Tweetups were born from discussions between myself, Andy Brudtkuhl, and a couple of others in the fall of 2007 as a way to connect Des Moines' talented (but at the time disconnected) creative class. As things evolved, Andy and I were seen as "heads" of this Twitter community. When a local business showed interest in getting involved, they often reached out to us first, and we helped steer them on how to best engage the community.

Today, Andy and I were criticized for serving as a "chokepoint" for businesses trying to connect with the Des Moines Twitter community, and legitimizing companies who might approach it in the wrong way. A monetization discussion also came up: whether or not we profited from organizing any of these events.

Full disclosure: Andy has not made any money from advising companies on how to approach a tweetup sponsorship. My company (Lava Row) has made money in one instance: the strategy and scripting of the September 2008 SmartyPig digital treasure hunt as a paid project.

IowaBiz.com is not a channel for the emotion and personal biases of today's debate. We'll leave that on Twitter. So let's just focus on othe core theme that came up today: Can tweetups - a self-organizing event by nature - still be a tweetup with a sponsor?

The opinions differ wildly, and I wanted to share a few of them below:

@aroger my 2 cents, #dmtweetup should be inspired, organized, and promoted by the community, THEN a sponser can add value

@scottrocketship Businesses should come to us, the community, not someone or someone's in particular. Let us disagree WITH them, publicly.

@amyraelle for what it's worth, i appreciate anyone who plans events for me .... sponsors or no.

@paragonitpros We had a blast at the #dmtweetup we sponsored (as in bought a round) in September. No agenda, other than to meet tweeps.

@clairecelsi I've always been of the mind that Tweetup sponsors are just trying to contribute to the success of the event, not hard sell.

@jensenrf sure you (businesses) got to go to someone but this is dmtweetup.org and not lavarow. Community should feel cheated if not in the loop. Perception.


One of the better suggestions to come out of today's debate was Neil Roberts' idea of disclosing exactly who is calling for the tweetup within the event details on Upcoming.org. Was it a member of the Twitter community, or a business? There's another idea floating around of a video interview with multiple Des Moines tweeps containing their practical advice on what makes a successful sponsored tweetup. This would serve as an educational "howto" for local businesses.

Now it's your turn to chime in below, if you haven't already. Your perspective is always welcome here at IowaBiz.com.

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Wow, I had no idea the #DMtweetup group had grown to such disagreement. I thought the group was created to bring people together, end of story. If that initial principal is starting to bring dissension within the group via the topic of sponsorship, than take the item that created the dissension out of the equation and go back to just getting together to have fun. As someone who has planned on getting more involved with the group, discussion like this has made me think twice about that effort. If you are truly just in it to grow the "community," and enjoy each others company, discussions like this in the community is doing your mission a disservice.

Hi Pete, thanks for dropping in - I can assure you that the original purpose behind tweetups (bringing people together) is alive and well. The topic of sponsorship isn't what caused the differing opinions, it was how tweetups are organized (by a company, by an individual, or by the community). I definitely encourage you to attend future tweetups - you'll have a great time and meet all sorts of interesting new people.

Within the past year there have been a number of Twitter users that use this social media platform many times through the week. These regular online Twitter users tend to have influence in this region because they are also active offline. This combination has allowed then and a number of other users make connections and relationships move forward. The personalities of Des Moines Twitter users ranges from quiet to boisterous. Some are great with conversations others are less engaged. For me interacting with these different people with their different personalities online and offline has been tremendously beneficial and has exceeded any goal I initially had when I started using social media.

Tweetups work because people choose to participate. There are regulars that attend Tweetups but there are always new faces to meet as well. For me the more new faces, new situations, and new methods of these gatherings happening the better. I don’t care if it’s sponsored, I don’t care if I’m being solicited, I don’t even care if a business is using the power of the “#dmtweetup” tag to sell me. If a scenario goes down at a Tweetup where I am uncomfortable I’ll split. I’m sure if I’m made to feel uncomfortable others will feel uncomfortable as well. Nobody controls a Tweetup even if there are regulars that often call a Tweetup. The reason I think #dmtweetup’s have been a success is that they happen quickly with little more than a time, date, and a venue being organized. I suspect if you add more to that list like solicitation the Tweetup will be less successful than previous ones, but I have a do it and see what happens mindset. I also wonder what is the worst possible scenario that can come from a Tweetup being sponsored?

My point of view concerning how a Tweetup happens is pretty simple. Anyone can organize one anywhere anytime with any agenda. Also using Twitter isn’t a prerequisite for one to be at a Tweetup nor to even host, sponsor, call, or facilitate a Tweetup. Obviously it would help a person, group, or business to be an active Twitter user to have a successful Tweetup but completely unnecessary.

I’ve attended the majority of the Des Moines Tweetups since April and they have always been a very fulfilling experience with the number of new people and as time goes on the number of familiar people I see. Most of the time it’s a laid back atmosphere where those who show up determine the agenda, and that agenda is often order a drink, find a group of people to hang with, then move on to another group of people. Repeat this until the bar closes or it moves on to another venue.

I’ll keep going to Tweetups in Des Moines or any other city I am in when I can attend. By the way if you want to look at big Tweetups that have been sponsored look to San Diego #sdtweetup http://www.meetup.com/sdtweetup/

I dont think having a sponsor changes the idea that it is a tweetup. it might just enhance it by being able to have it at a really nice facility or maybe some great food or snacks/drinks provided for free.

either way I think they are great events to attend.

It seems natural to me that as a tweetup evolves during conversations on twitter, that would be an ideal time for a local business to join the conversation and offer sponsorship at that time. Pre-planning a sponsored event seems to run counter to the organic nature of a tweetup, but I see no reason why an involved business couldn't propose a time, place or provide drinks/food. Who wouldn't want to meet up at nice place with free drinks?

At the core of the story: dealing with growth is hard and ultimately changes the event entirely (more requests, more people, more lead time to plan, need to reserve a location in advance).

Creating a form (and any addition of automation even if through technology) to manage any of this is like adding a process which also indicates a group is becoming more formal which counter-cultural to an informal and decentralized group/event.

Overall I did not mind the form however I thought it was poorly communicated. What it means, why do it, who receives it and what happens next were never answered.

IMO however a sponsored dmtweetup is not the same as dmtweetups from a year ago; good, bad or indifferent.

If a company, or individual, wants to use twitter to tap into the potential customer base that is fine. We have seen it with bars, coffee shops, selling art, and website promotion. I think it is great if someone could help them understand how to use twitter effectively. It could be as simple as a guide "Marketing on twitter 101."

I only follow 3 company's on twitter that are based in Des Moines (@marscafe, @sweetbinney, @pancheros). Reason being is because they use twitter effectively in the following ways:
1) They understand the social aspect of twitter. They engage in conversations to get to know us, and not just throw ads out there.
2) They don't just attack us for our money! They ask for our opinion, and at times give special offers that you can only get by being on twitter.
3) They inform us on what's going on at their establishment, but not flood the stream with it.

If an establishment arranges the #dmtweetup I think it is important to offer an incentive. It gives it a friendlier tone instead of - "come in we just want your money!" It makes it feel like the company is apart of the social community. This is Marketing 101 stuff - never alienate your audience. Offer something that not everyone else can get. Perfect example is how @marscafe will use a password for a $1 off. How about ware your tweetup badge and get a drink special?

I am wondering why what is (in my opinion) a major catalyst to this whole thing was left out: the tweetup called by AJ's

What it appears will happen at this next tweetup is that we will all end up at AJ's for no other reason than the business telling us to be there. If you look at the Twitter feed for AJ's, they never actually called for, discussed, or posted a tweetup. AJ's, on Nathan's instruction, created an event on upcoming.org, and Nathan injected that link into our community.

This causes me (and several others) some distress. It marks the first tweetup that was created completely outside of the community. To me, it also shows that having these choke-points allows for people to make their way into our community without actually participating in our community.

On top of that, it shows that Nathan (or anyone with a lot of followers in our community) has the ability, to a large extent to simply tell us where to spend our money. It's no secret that Nathan can deliver a client excellent immediate results as a social media guru because of the size and involvement of our community. I think many of us have put a lot of trust in Nathan in terms of bridging these two worlds that he's a part of. What he did with SmartyPig was really great, I don't think anyone was offended by that, and it's important to some of us that Nathan be careful in how he leverages us.

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