September 12, 2009

Twitter Nation


In a town full of festivals, fundraisers, and galas, the organizers of SBTwestival managed to cover all the categories and managed to do it in style. The Sept. 11 Santa Barbara Twestival, held atop of the Canary on the Perch, was a fundraising event where participants not only helped raise money for Direct Relief International, but also had a chance to network and be part of a larger movement.


Twitter, an online social networking system, is a flourishing sound board where people have the opportunity to develop "a voice" and connect with people around the world. On Twitter, users have the opportunity to "follow" other users and other users can follow you. So, in tweet terms, there are people you are "following" and people who are your "followers." To really get the lingo down, each message sent is called a "tweet." Tweets are limited to 140 characters and can be sent via phone or computer, can mention users (@) and topics (#), and can be re-tweeted (RT).


Being new to twitter, I had no idea what to expect from a Twestival. Luckily I had the assistance of Jennifer Bragg, who is considered a "Twitter Elite." Who knew there was such a thing? Well there is and it is taken very seriously. Ms. Bragg informed me that the SBTwestival was more than a networking opportunity, it was a chance for hard core twitteres to finally meet their followers and the people they are following in person. Ok, so that I could understand. But apparently there is also a hierarchal ranking system in the twitter community. Ms. Bragg further explained that users are ranked based on how often they tweet, how many followers they have, and how many people they are following. Based on these statistics, users are given a rank in their twitter community. My compadre was ranked number 19 and proudly introduced me to other high ranking twitterers. Twitter rankings are proudly displayed, and at the SBTwestival everyone knew each other just from using Twitter.


The organizer of SBTwestival, David Baeza has only been using Twitter for a year but already has 1,414 followers and is following 1,862. It wasn't alway easy for Mr. Baeza. He claimed that at first, he did not understand the system but was able to have computer program developers explain to him the intricacies of Twitter. Mr Beaza told me he also had trouble "finding his voice" on twitter at first, but as he used it more it became a powerful communication tool. In fact, in organizing the local SBTwestival with the global Twestival coordinator Amanda Rose, all communication was done via twitter. No emails, no phone calls, not even any texting - just tweets.


Very excited that SBTwestival had so many participants, Mr. Baeza explained how this was a local fundraising event that is happening globally. There are roughly 175 cities participating throughout forty-four countries over a three day period. Each local participant decide their own charity to benefit from the Twestival, therefore making it a "local" Twestival. Global Twestivals all have the same one charity. Direct Relief International (DRI) was chosen by a panel of volunteers that make up SBTwestival. Proudly displayed on flat screen televisions, was the SBTwestival home page with participants' tweets. The mass tweets sent from the SBTwestival with the topic "#sbtwestival" allows the topic to generate online attention to its' cause. All this may be very foreign and new, but it does start to makes sense the more one is exposed to it, although I must admit it still makes my head spin.


The night was a success with SBTwestival raising more than $10,000 for DRI and generating a good buzz for the local twittering community. The event itself was well organized and very informative, the volunteers were gracious, the food and drink were plentiful, and the rooftop at the Canary was picturesque. Not only did I enjoy a beautiful evening and learn more about social media networking, I left the Twestival with a few more followers that I have actually met face to face.