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Elizabeth Varley has been involved with the last two Twestivals and is the organiser for the London event, which takes place this evening.

I've been talking to Elizabeth about Twestival, and how it has used social media, and Twitter especially, to raise money for charity.

There are still some tickets available for tonight's Twestival, and you can also pay on the door...

Can you explain the concept behind Twestival?

Essentially, it's about coming together to have a great night, and support a worthy cause. Last year's first Twestival consisted of 200 people getting together, having drinks and raising money for local homeless charities.

By February, it had gotten bigger, and more than 200 cities came together to support Charity:water. In April, we saw what the $250,000 that was raised globally could do, and had organiser Amanda Rose filmed drilling wells in Ethiopa to show how the money was being spent.

For this Twestival, we had Twitterers nominate a list of charities which they then voted on, so we are raising money for Childline.

How much are you hoping to raise this time?

Our target is £16,000, which will be made up from ticket sales, sponsorships, and donations on the night, all of which will go to Childline.

How have you used Twitter to promote the event?

Well, we have a lot of people following the London Twestival Twitter account, and we've been keeping them up to date with information on the bands that are playing, what is happening, and the sponsors that are taking part.

We have had lots of retweets, which has spread awareness of the event beyond the 3,000 followers, and there has been a huge level of support by Twitterers. They feel like this is their event, and they have been a part of it from the very beginning. It's very much a group effort.

Have you got many brands on board as sponsors?

Yes, we have Tweetminster as the headline sponsor, and Sonos as another major sponsors, as well as others like Tamar, AVG and more.

Plenty of different companies see the value in supporting the event. It's about charitable giving, but also about getting involved in a more interesting way than simply making donations. Its a more experiential way of giving to charity.

Brands have the opportunity to reach a market of technology and digital early adopters and influential people in the PR and media industries. As soon as we have made sponsorship opportunities available, people have got in touch; brands have been keen to get involved and play their part.

To make it more interesting, we have asked the major sponsors to put on some kind of activities at Twestival. They could do anything they wanted, as long as it was cool, so Sonos will be demonstrating its technology, providing music, and asking people to contribute to playlists via Twitter, while Tweetminster will be running gaming competitions.

Have you tried to retain a grass roots feel, despite the brands and sponsorship?

Yes, we made it very clear that this is not an opportunity to sell, sell, sell, and is instead more about being a part of the event. It gives them an opportunity to have a dialogue with customers.

These companies understand that they can listen to  customers and learn how to improve their services.

How has the Twestival idea spread since the beginning?

Mainly through Twitter, and this is something which provides a demonstration of the effectiveness of the medium. If you have something that is genuinely engaging like this, it encourages people to start talking about it, and the idea spreads and spreads.

It started with three PR people in London who had the idea of creating a charity event for the digital communications industry, perhaps a karaoke night, something quite small.

However, as more people got involved, they realised the opportunity was there to do something bigger, and as soon as we had held the first London event, others expressed an interest.

None of us realised that it would ever reach 200 cities worldwide, but when people heard about it, they wanted to put in event, and we had loads of volunteers.

How is it managed around the world? Which online tools do you use for this?

It's all managed centrally by Amanda Rose, who has teams of volunteers managing the events in various different places. Information has been provided on how to set up Twestivals in their local area.

To manage this, we use Twitter a lot, obviously, but also collaboration tools like Huddle Workspace to share documents and information, and set up meetings, as well as amiando for ticketing services.

Bands playing at the events have used their MySpace and Bebo profile pages to support us, we have a Facebook group, while we have also received lots of mentions on blogs and forums. It's about maximising the opportunities that are there to raise awareness through social media.

Graham Charlton

Published 10 September, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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