One Baltimore man made his fondness for Twitter, as well as his commitment to the job of promoting his hometown, permanent last month when he tattooed the company's logo to his body.
It wasn't an easy decision. "I am petrified of needles; every time I go to the doctor I pass out," said Ryan Goff, 24.
Goff works for a marketing firm representing tourism in the city of Baltimore. He was already active on Twitter -- the social networking and micro-blogging service -- when his colleague Tom Rowe concocted an unusual recruiting plan to expand the visibility of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, which left Goff with an everlasting souvenir.
In seeking to best the Twitter reach of tourism-friendly cities like Chicago and Portland, Ore., Rowe and Goff challenged those cities' tourism groups to see which could garner 3,000 followers first.
Their Twitter handle, @BaltimoreMD, had 1,700 followers. Chicago and Portland were already way ahead, just a few hundred short of the goal of 3,000. Nearly doubling Baltimore's followers would be a gargantuan task, Rowe and Goff presumed, but they said they were up for the challenge.
"It was a point of pride," Rowe said. "I had all the faith in the world that we could do it."
At 2:20 p.m. Feb 23, Rowe attacked the challenge head-on with a "Tweet" message sent to his followers asking, "Which destination will be the first with 3,000 followers: @visitchicago or @travelportland? 1,300 followers. We can do it."
Anne Hornyak, operator of the Chicago Twitter page, was close to reaching 3,000 followers. "I was hoping to beat them to that goal," she said.
What started as a competition between Portland and Chicago soon morphed into an intense three-way race for 3,000 followers, when Rowe and Goff sweetened the pot. They promised that if @BaltimoreMD reached 3,000 first, Goff would "get inked" with the Twitter logo.
"The tattoo thing would be odd enough to get people's attention," Rowe said he surmised.
Rowe rallied followers, saying, "Come on. We're like the 'Slumdog Millionaire' of destination tweets," he said, referencing the acclaimed film's underdog status during movie-award season.
Twitter Crowd Takes Baltimore by Storm
Rowe said he did not have to twist Goff's arm or, in this case, his leg, which is where the tattoo is located. Goff quickly offered himself for the recruitment scheme.
"I, myself was wary about it but he quickly jumped," Rowe said of his colleague.
With less than 24 hours to go, Rowe set a high bar and promised Twitter followers that Goff would get the tattoo if @BaltimoreMD was able to reach its goal of 3,000 followers by 1 a.m.
Friends and supporters joined Rowe and Goff at a neighborhood watering hole to watch the number of @BaltimoreMD followers climb on Twitter.
The crowd didn't have to wait long. At 8:40 p.m., @BaltimoreMD shot past the 3,000-follower mark, besting Chicago and Portland.
"Normally, I wouldn't think that something like that is feasible," the defeated Hornyak said, "but with Twitter anything is possible."
@BaltimoreMD had succeeded but to ensure that followers knew Goff would really get the tattoo, the two arranged a live webcast on www.youstream.tv to show needle-phobic Goff receiving his first and, he said, likely only tattoo.
The image Goff chose for the tattoo is known as Twitter's fail whale, the icon users see when Twitter has an error. Some Baltimore pride did make it into the design, however. The tattoo incorporates the handle-barred mustache featured on the National Bohemian beer brewed in Baltimore.
Goff said more than 180 people tuned into the Webcast. And among Goff's audience were two unexpected viewers: his grandparents.
Tattoo artist Hunter Spanks has been tattooing for 18 years but said the tattoo marked the first time his work had gone out on a live Web stream. It has been a positive experience for Spanks' business, and he has since fielded inquiries about his work. But the experience hasn't turned ink-slinger Spanks into a Twitter user just yet.
"No, I haven't gotten around to Twitter; it's hard enough for me to keep my Web site up to date," Spanks said.
Rowe is pleased with the publicity garnered during the competition. "It started as something fun. ... We're enormously happy with the success of it," he said.
No More Tattoos for Goff
The competition and the Twitter twist garnered increased followers for all of the cities in the competition. Chicago and Portland now host more than 3,500 followers. Chicago's Hornyak expected followers to leave after the contest ended, but was surprised to see that was not the case.
"Most of them have stayed with me.," she said.
Goff said he has no regrets. "I'm really happy with how all of it turned out; the positive response that we've gotten on the back end has been great," he said, noting the merger of social media and real life.
As for the tattooing, however, "This will not become a regular thing," he said.