Hubspot, Hybernaut Bury the Twitter Hatchet, For Now
All’s well that ends well. For a while, it looked like the argument last week between Cambridge’s Hubspot and Beta House co-founder Brian Del Vecchio over how startups should use Twitter—a debate carried out on Twitter itself, of course—was going to get ugly. Del Vecchio, known on Twitter as @Hybernaut, was bothered by the way Hubspot was using Twitter to gather a crowd for the taping of its Hubspot.tv show, where Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was an invited, but not confirmed, guest; he called it a “crass marketing gimmick” and said Hubspot was abusing the concept of a “tweetup,” a community gathering organized on Twitter. Local startup-watcher Tom Summit noticed the brewing “twitstorm” and contributed a guest Xconomist post about it.
But on Friday, Del Vecchio attended Hubspot’s tweetup—and so did Stone (known in Twitter lingo as @biz). And in a followup comment posted on Xconomy and on his own blog Saturday, Del Vecchio said it was a worthwhile event, and that he’d made peace with the folks at Hubspot. “In retrospect my criticism was harsh and many of my concerns were unfounded,” Del Vecchio writes.
The controversy went something like this:
When Del Vecchio saw Hubspot employees organizing a Twitter campaign last week to get people to come to its Friday Hubspot.tv gathering and to lobby Biz Stone himself to make an appearance—a tactic that had worked for the company with previous celebrities, including MC Hammer and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick—he felt that the company was perverting the idea of Tweetups. “I have attended and hosted about a dozen Boston-area tweetups in the past few years, and all had the common theme of Twitter friends meeting in person,” Del Vecchio explains in his comment. “The key here is community–people come to tweetups to build connections with people in a social setting, not to take advantage of amazing discounts or to listen to sales pitches from financial planners.”
Del Vecchio felt that Hubspot was not only polluting the idea of a tweetup, but misleading potential attendees by using Biz Stone’s name to promote the event. Hubspot founder and CEO Dharmesh Shah, in his own comment on Summit’s post, responded to that charge, among others. “Should we have organized a gathering hoping that a celebrity (in this case @biz) would be there? And, should we have promoted it in the hopes that he’d join us? Honestly, I don’t understand what the issue with this is,” Shah wrote. “We made it clear that @biz was not confirmed, we were just ‘hoping.’ In fact, the idea behind all the twitter chatter was to hopefully convince him to come visit some of his company’s fans. I don’t see this as being that different from organizing any unofficial gathering of fans for any well-known figure.”
Shah also defended the company’s use of the “tweetup” label. “In our minds (and I checked Google), all a tweetup is [is] a meeting of a group of Twitter friends offline. I think our gathering qualifies as a tweetup.”
Del Vecchio, in his post-game summary, agrees that the Hubspot event qualified. But one larger issue at stake, as Tom Summit observed, was whether companies can legitimately participate in and add value to the Twittersphere.
Shah’s answer was an unequivocal yes. “I think twitter is great partly because of businesses,” he wrote. “Whether it’s to talk about product experiences, get support or lean more, users want to interact with businesses on Twitter. Commerce is part of our daily lives and I think it’s helpful to discuss our connection to businesses in social media too.”
Del Vecchio, if you read his final comment carefully, doesn’t come down strongly on one side or the other of that question. He says Hubspot’s tweetup didn’t strike him as crass or commercial. “The HubSpot team didn’t pitch or try to control the conversation–they merely provided a place and a friendly atmosphere for people to meet and talk,” he writes.
But he remains somewhat cautious toward Hubspot’s use of Twitter as part of its overall strategy of “inbound marketing”—the idea, as I explained in a 2007 profile, of converting people who interact with your brand online into actual customers. In particular, Del Vecchio suggests that Hubspot’s tradition of “invite-mobbing,” if it became widespread, would start to backfire on its practitioners.
“As Twitter becomes increasingly mainstream, I can easily imagine a Twitter-powered mob of thousands gathering, demanding the appearance of Tom Brady at someone’s wedding,” he writes. “The atmosphere will be quite different when the target—I mean ‘guest of honor’—doesn’t show up.”
Explaining his overall wariness toward Hubspot, Del Vecchio writes: “Everything HubSpot does to promote their own business and events is instruction for their clients: this is how it’s done. Their techniques become de facto standards, and so I feel it’s important to challenge their ethics and discuss their techniques before everyone copies them.”
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