6 things you really need to know about taking Twitter on the road with you

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Road Trip

On Sunday, I took Twitter on a road trip with me. I announced that I was driving to the top of a mountain, drove to the top of a mountain in Marakele National Park near Thabazimbi and down again, and finally got safely home — with Twitter kept updated all the way.

I did it partly because I love sharing what I do and driving alone can get, well, lonely. I also wanted to do something interesting in my sponsored Range Rover before it goes back to the company that owns it. Finding ways to tell stories involving the brand is one of my responsibilities as a social media brand ambassador, and I wanted to end the campaign with something that made sense both for the brand and for me personally.

Twitter road trip

A phone, a car and a signal: essential elements for taking Twitter on a road trip

The response was amazing. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would be interested in what I was doing, but the conversations I started and the tweets that went back and forth about everything from the beauty of the road I was on to whether there are better dining options than the Thabazimbi Wimpy (apparently not).

So many people thanked me for sharing the journey with them, and for giving them an escape from an otherwise gloomy day. And when I tweeted about the downside of travelling alone — that there’s no co-driver to hand over to when you get tired — it was Melanie Minnaar who spotted my tweet and phoned to make sure I was okay.

I’ve taken Twitter on road trips before, but this one was slightly different, because Twitter was integral to my journey — so much so that Twitter was, in fact, my driving companion.

This is how I took Twitter on a road trip. Bear in mind that this was spontaneous, and there was no strategy as such, but this is what I learned:

1. Have a story
My story was simply this: I was going to drive to the top of a mountain. Since this is generally something we don’t do — we might climb a mountain, or take a cablecar, but we generally don’t drive to the top of one — it was intriguing enough to get people interested in where I was going, and why.

2. Root your story — and the brand – in something authentic
This journey wasn’t about talking about the car, although that was part of it. The car gave me the freedom to do something different and discover something interesting. If I’d focused purely on the car rather than some kind of larger purpose, I don’t think I would have had the same impact.

3. The hashtag is essential
The trick, of course, is what to go for. Do you prize meaning over brevity, for example? I weighed up a couple of options: #mountaintrip #mountaindrive #mountainroadtrip. Eventually I opted for a #drivetothemountain . It used up a lot of characters, but it was more meaningful because it embodied the story in a way that the others did not. Also, I reasoned that it would help my tweets make sense to somebody latching onto the story in the middle, and persuade them to find out more. On the way back, I made a spontaneous decision to change to #drivefromthemountain because the story had changed.

4. Ideally, have a central repository for content
Tweets are great for immediacy, but they don’t allow you to expand on why you’re doing something, or what you actually ended up doing. If there was one thing I would have done differently had I done more planning, it would have been a road trip blog. I ended up posting my blog entries on a site developed specifically for the period leading up to handing back my sponsored car. I did find a way to link the two by posting on the beggars I’d donated to on the drive to the mountain, but in an ideal world, the road trips need a space of their own.

5. Find a balance between scheduled and spontaneous content
Ideally, all tweets should be spontaneous. But this wasn’t an option for me, because I was alone and I could hardly tweet and drive. I had to save up my observations for the breaks. At the same time, I didn’t want to swamp the timeline with a glut of tweets, so I preloaded some of the generic references to the songs I happened to be listening to – Alanis, mostly – and timed those to be post while I was driving.

6. Focus is good
This was a very short road trip — only a day. Would it have generated as much interest if I’d extended it over several days, perhaps even a week? I don’t know. What I do know is that the simplicity of the premise allowed me to bring in detail while holding the attention of people who follow hundreds if not thousands of others.

To make it work better, I’d make a couple of changes – a co-driver for one thing, and an appropriate blog to post more detailed content. But I have learned this: that road trips and Twitter, like TV and Twitter, work really well together.

Thanks for being my road trip companion, Twitter. We must do it again some time.

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