How I Accidentally Started a Research Sprint On SXSW Twitter

Published on
March 11th, 2019
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“If your customers talk on Twitter, go there.”
When I was working on building SlidesUp, my goal was to improve the attendee experience at tech conferences. While I got many insights by asking friends and family to tell me about the last conference they went to, I needed to reach more people who go to tech conferences.
So when SXSW Interactive was happening, I saw lots of tweets about the event popping up on my feed, along with friends posting their travel updates to Austin on Facebook. Many people who go to the event engage with others and share their experiences in a variety of social channels. Given the attendees’ online presence, why not poll Twitter?

Starting a research sprint by accident

Because of a few unexpected retweets on this first poll, I was getting more people excited to vote and share their thoughts. I immediately thought of how Google Ventures' Michael Margolis runs immersive research sprints to quickly understand other people’s perspectives. Much like the initial phase of any good design thinking project, a research sprint is geared at interviewing, observing, and analyzing your customers to answer important questions.
The engagement I received from the SXSW crowd was great, so I decided to post on a regular cadence throughout the week. The second question was geared toward learning:
Beyond the polls, I tried to reach out to people who commented, liked, or followed me as a result of my tweets. I ended up having over 10 in-depth conversations throughout the week. Several people offered and talked to me via phone and video chat.

Results from my accidental sprint

Twitter polls are not scientific, but they can answer my questions about how people learn and connect at conferences. My top insights were:
  • Most attendees prefer quality over quantity when it comes to meeting people. A lot of ambitious attendees try to meet as many people as possible, but savor longer conversations when they meet someone interesting.
  • Learning and retaining information is a personal preference, but there are plenty of opportunities to help.
  • Despite the popularity of the conference, there are a few areas attendees hope will improve for future years.

The “offline" conversations

By reaching out via DM and asking follow-up questions, I had about 30 conversations. More than 10 were in-depth. I can’t stress how vital this is — reaching out individually was the best way to improve my understanding of the attendee experience. People like to talk about themselves and their experiences if you ask thoughtful questions.
If you can make it happen, try to observe your customers directly. You won’t be able to reach the same number of people, but can lead to the best insights. This could be a follow up activity you may consider after engaging and finding helpful participants.

The costs of my research sprint

Tweeting is free, and I would have loved to edit my tweets! I paid $33 over two Twitter ad campaigns as my polls were closing. This was not effective, but I learned a lot from messaging Twitter Ads Help. I asked them how to increase tweet engagement, write effective copy for ads and test my campaigns. I also created a Twitter Moment to be able to present the polls in a more ad-friendly manner.
Personally engaging with my network was much easier (and free!), although I now know more about Twitter ads for the next time I need to use them.
Refocusing my efforts from designing and building during that week to research paid off. Sure, I didn’t get to create new features during that time, but I was then able to double-down with confidence on the features I worked on next. I also made invaluable connections with people who have ideas to make conferences better.

How can I apply this to my own research if my customers aren’t on Twitter?

Twitter just happens to be where my customers were for SXSW. You can find where your customers are talking and engage with them there.
During my first job in design, I learned about truck owners and prospective buyers through online truck forums. It was a low-cost, highly effective form of research.
When we built a prototype of a product to help future truck buyers and novice truck owners, we set up a more formal study. The in-depth, moderated, 1-on-1 interviews tested how well our product informed them about towing and payload. We found it was easier for our participants to decide which truck to buy using the towing and payload guide. This product wouldn’t have been possible without spending hours on truck forums to understand our customers.
If your customers talk on Twitter, go there. If your customers talk on online truck forums, go there. Find where your customers talk and go there. Research doesn’t always need to be expensive or meticulously planned.
Have you had any experiences finding research opportunities in unexpected places?
Comments (6)
Taylor Majewski
I love this story @kunalslab. "Going where your customers" are for feedback seems obvious, but I feel like this hack is often overlooked. It's such a low-lift way to get immediate insight while you're building 🙌
Kunal Bhatia
design @mercury
@taylormajewski thank you! I'm certainly a big believer in research and lately figured out that it can be low effort, but high yield.
Ryan Hoover
Founder of Product Hunt & Weekend Fund
Twitter is one of the best places to observe and reach out to customers.
Kunal Bhatia
design @mercury
@rrhoover this is my second favorite usage of Twitter. #1 is what @bgurley describes here: "In any given field, 50-80% of the top experts are on Twitter and they’re sharing ideas. If you’re not using Twitter, you’re missing out."
Boyd Fletcher
I am a publisher, know to get your book.
In 2013, I was in Austin for SXSW Interactive when I saw a tweet from someone I didn’t know. It said something like, “If you’re at SXSW and want to do a research sprint on [topic], come to this place at this time.” I was interested in the topic, so I went. I ended up meeting a group of people who were all working on similar projects. We spent the day sharing what we had learned and discussing ways to move forward. It was an incredibly productive day, and I left feeling energized and excited about the potential for research sprints. Since then, I’ve organized or participated in dozens of research sprints on everything from open source software to education technology to diversity in tech. And it all started with a chance encounter on Twitter. Source:
Zachary Perkins
Freelancer: making video clips.
I've also read about Michael Margolis' sprints, and I think it's really smart to use everything that technology of nowadays offers us to gather information. For instance, some time ago, I found such a project which provides essay writing help online. By the way, I was looking for help in writing about the social media power in the everyday life of sociologists (who I am). So, I can agree maybe the information which has been gotten from Twitter users isn't too scientific but can help you to make a study, research, and quality enough poll data. You can also use it to build some guesses for your study, especially if you can find your target audience on social media. What was proved by the writers from the service I used.