Last month, T-Mobile’s TV-ad spokeswoman ditched pink sundresses for a black-and-pink leather motorcycle suit, to wear while blasting down the highway on a roaring motorbike.
The TV spots are one component of a rebranding effort for the cellular carrier, one that aims to make the company’s service synonymous with blazing-fast mobile data speeds. In early May, T-Mobile launched another portion of that campaign, prompting some of Twitter’s most influential users to race for a free phone.
“We were really looking at transforming a brand,” says Peter DeLuca, senior vice president of brand, advertising, and communications for the company. “We were going to change the impression of what you thought about the brand.”
The brand’s Twitter race certainly had an impact, with about 24,000 tweets over a 15-day period containing the company’s hashtag, #4GTweets.
Influences and influencers
T-Mobile isn’t the first brand to attempt something called a “tweet race.” In early 2011, Mercedes-Benz offered four teams the opportunity to compete in an “Amazing Race”-style dash to Dallas for a free car and Super Bowl tickets. Tweeting was also a component of the competition. T-Mobile eliminated the road-race part of the challenge.
“We landed on Twitter, because we really wanted people’s social graph to decide the race here,'” says Andrew Vitellaro, senior manager of social media for T-Mobile.
In January, the company tested a Twitter race at the CES trade show, and by mid-April, it was preparing its full-on 4G race.
Teaming with social media agency Big Fuel, the company teamed with social-media-ranking firm Klout to contact thousands of Twitter users with high Klout scores.
“We cast a huge, wide net,” Vitellaro says.
About 2,500 high-influence tweeters—whose follower counts extended up into the millions and whose influence extended into some unexpected areas, such as relationship advice—agreed to reach out to their networks about the tweet race, he says.
And they’re off
In the last few days of April, T-Mobile sponsored several stories on Mashable and did some promotion via Thrillist for the race, but most of the interest was driven through Twitter, Vitellaro says. The company posted a tweet about the race in its Twitter feed, including a link to the contest rules and a short YouTube video showing off the hashtag. T-Mobile also paid to make it a promoted tweet.
The race kicked off May 1 and lasted until May 15, going through seven heats over that period. For Twitter users to participate, they had to sign up through a microsite. People who simply tweeted #4GTweets weren’t actually entering to participate in the race.
Using the monitoring tools Mass Relevance and Crimson Hexagon, Big Fuel monitored each entrant’s number of retweets to declare a winner for each heat. Whoever had the most retweets in a given heat got a free HTC One S phone. Tweeters were limited to one tweet during a three-hour heat.
T-Mobile offered users some suggested language for their tweets upon registration, but didn’t auto-tweet messages for them.
As the heats progressed, contestants got more and more acclimated to the competition, Vitellaro says. People who came in second or third one heat figured out ways to build up retweets the next time.
The winners of the seven heats competed for a grand prize of $4,000.
T-Mobile racked up 91 million impressions with the race, DeLuca says. The brand’s name got 32,000 mentions, 395,000 people visited the microsite, and 3,340 people registered to compete in the race itself.
Over the 15 days, T-Mobile gained 3,100 new Twitter followers , he says.
Vitellaro says the company won 99 percent of the share of voice in the online discussion of the HTC One S; every carrier has its own version of that product. Likewise, the race helped the company’s Klout score shoot above every other mobile phone carrier’s, and it’s still holding strong a month later, he says.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.