As a fan of Startup Weekends, I engage with them as often as I can. As a mentor, as a participant, as an organizer and as a facilitator. I often support people to engage in social media as a part of the process. Not only for the benefit of the event , but also for the benefit of the team.
Some folks find the discussion of social media and twitter for a team a distraction. As Eli Rubel @eli_rubel eloquantly puts it in his post "How to rock Startup Weekend and land venture funding":
I have seen this thought expressed in many different ways, but basically articulating that Social Media is a waste of time for a Startup Weekend. In addition, as I study the Lean Startup Methodology, I see that there are several places where premature marketing and PR is a way to distract you from getting your critical work done. So, why do I still encourage people to engage in Social media as a part of a team at Startup Weekend?
The answer lies in the Point of the engagement. Social Media for social media sake is not very helpful, and may in fact be a distraction. However, When we look at Dave McClures ( @davemcclure ) "AARRR, Metrics for Pirates" ( Dave McClure Blog )
We see that there are several channels for acquisition. As a person, I can only talk to a few people an hour. On the Phone, perhaps a few more. However, if I have done my Twitter Dance right, then I can have thousands of people who are interested in what I am doing and interested in the questions that I am asking.
I agree completely with Eli when he says "Get a real customer or two". Where I disagree is that I think that social media , when done right, is a great way to develop and audience and to acquire customers. There is a huge difference between Social Media Blathering and Social Media as a method of conversation with an audience. If you are good at Social Media Blathering, then I would have to side completely with Eli. On the other hand, if you are working to understand the Growth Hacking process of finding , engaging and validating customers , then the effective use of twitter and other social media is a great channel.
I see twitter as a much more effective tool for spreading the word to people you don't know , compared to facebook. Facebook is great for connecting between friends and those that are already connected. It is not as effective as reaching far into new audiences who have less of an initial connection to you. So understanding the Twitter Dance and how to engage an audience is a great skill for any Growth Hacker, even at a Startup Weekend. Or especially at a Startup Weekend.
If you come to a Startup Weekend as a coder, you do not come unprepared. You have a set of skills, libraries, previously built environments, github accounts and other tools of the trade. You are not building a whole system from scratch, but you are building upon the previous work which allows you to rapidly deploy a website or application in hours. As a Business Development person/ Growth Hacker, you should not be coming in unprepared either. Coming into the Startup Weekend with an ongoing conversation with an audience is a great resource to bring to the event. If you have a pathway to finding hundreds or thousands of potential customers, then you have an important resource for your team at the startup weekend.
Having watched some Twitter Mavens take website traffic from 0 to 1000 unique visitors in less than an hour, I know that twitter can be a powerful tool. I also know that the twitter dance starts weeks before the event.
It will impress the audience and judges at a Startup Weekend, when you have clear picture of your sales funnel, with your social media metrics in place and some hard numbers for your conversion rates, where you can watch people move from Acqusition , to Activations to Revenue in a rapid series of tests.
When I facilitate a Startup Weekend, I work coordinate around a regular stand up meeting, every 1.5 to 2 hours, with an effort to help people get into the pattern of setting short term rapid milestones, which they target. If you can show that you have a Sales Funnel (preferably on Friday Night) and that by noon on Saturday, you are actively working your sales funnel, and actively working to acquire customers, you will have the key business engine built.
If you want to rapidly build an effective business, you need to practice the process of growing an audience. One of the key skills for any growth hacker will be to figure out how to Find, Acquire and Activate new customers for the project. Startup Weekend is a great place to practice this skill. And this is why I focus on the question of twitter and social media as part of Startup Weekend business sprints.
Are you able to attract 1000 twitter followers in an afternoon? And can you then convert 40% of them into active signups on your project by the end of the weekend? If you can, you are seriously on your way to something interesting.