Not everyone is so impressed. Marketing legend Seth Godin says the campaign was "certainly loud – but is making noise the way to grow your business and your brand? You can get 35,000 Twitter followers fairly easily, but then what? What's the point? How do you talk to people who don't want to be talked to? I'm a bigger fan of delighting a dozen people and having them spread the word."
Drew Benvie (@drewb), managing director at 33 Digital, feels the campaign went against the spirit of Twitter. "Creating a lasting and engaging presence on Twitter takes more than just expensive giveaways," he says. "What Moonfruit achieved seems to have jarred with the Twitter community. Almost nobody I've spoken to about the stunt sees Moonfruit in a favourable light. Most don't even know what the company does.
"By tapping into Trending Topics," he continues, "the marketer is playing with fire. Spamming the community is an increasingly common tactic. The way Twitter's system works enables content that's worth sharing to turn viral very easily. In the case of Moonfruit, that content was hand-waving in an attempt to get a free laptop. For many, though, viral spread comes from providing something that the community appreciates and wants to share."
Dan Griliopoulos (@GriddleOctopus), account manager at Bastion PR, feels that the campaign was "a good one-off viral campaign idea" but argues that "over the middle-to long-term, ideas like that will generate diminishing returns. They generate too much system noise and annoy serious users who just want to use the system to communicate."
White counters: "Most of our growth has been word of mouth only. We know that works. But in all honesty if you want a real burst without paying a million pounds for it, then you have to try different things, and for us this has been by far the biggest step-change in marketing that we've done. The conversation has very much moved now to 'What do you want from us and what can we help you with?' so it's not that I don't value the brand affinity and the engagement."
So how else can firms use Twitter to their advantage? "We think Twitter is a wonderful medium to help people engage, but engage with a focus on building relationships, engage with a focus on adding content and adding value beyond the transaction or beyond the brand as best you can," says Manson.
Benvie suggests using Twitter to collect and adapt to customer feedback. "One way brands could make better use of Twitter is through adapting their business behaviour in line with realtime feedback from the consumer swarm," he says. "From noticing product flaws early to rewarding great customer service, what companies can see when they look is insightful to more divisions than just PR and marketing. "
A company could change customer service tactics, tweak its business processes or improve on product design based on what they see. Treat Twitter like one big focus group and you'll tap into the pulse of the consumer." Matthew Watson (@mpwatson), account executive at Speed Communications also urges firms to join the Twitter conversation:
"Companies should listen to what is being said about their brand or about their industry, before taking the leap and engaging in conversations. Rather than just broadcasting news and hoping users listen, companies must be open to being challenged by users and actually follow people and enter into meaningful conversations with them."
"The beauty of Twitter is that as an organisation you don't have to set up a 'Twitter watch' department," adds John Cunningham (@johnpc), director of business markets at ntl:Telewest Business. "At our company, the customer issues are picked up by employees who spot 'stuff' when they're on Twitter as individuals. They are acting as 'real people' who want to help resolve customers, or at least point the right people at the problems.
Many other companies are starting to adopt this viral 'let's look after our customers and our brand' approach on Twitter." Might Moonfruit run a similar campaign in the future? "I honestly believe you can't do that many like this," says White.
"I think we were lucky with the timing. Our next campaigns will be mostly around our customers and our products, building on our engagement and brand affinity. But we're always looking for creative ways to do things, we always have done.
"That's the irony – we've done lots of other creative stuff in the past but it hasn't had the global impact. So the only reason everyone is asking us now 'What does it mean?' is because it's suddenly gone global."
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After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.