It’s an understatement to say that Tom O'Keefe has mastered the art of social media. O’Keefe has collected a Twitter following of more than 114,000 people under his twitter handle @BostonTweet by sharing Boston buzz with city dwellers, and those whose love for the Hub transcends borders.
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As part of its Bold Bostonians series, Metro sat down with the Upstate New York native to learn a little about the man behind the tweet, and get the dirt on how he’s built his Twitter empire.
How was @BostonTweet born?
I used to work in the startup field in the late 90s, and I was totally addicted to that unbelievable time. It was fun, cool, challenging. I had two startups in 2008, which sort of crumbled. That’s when I started Boston Tweet, as a last ditch effort to try not to work in an office ever again. Twitter was pretty new. It was a couple of years old. I was tweeting about local business during a downed economy, so it was about value in the city, and where to go for cheap eats. I really thought it was going to be a ghost town in Boston, like the stuff you saw in 1920s. [Boston Tweet] grew from there.
How did you gather such a following?
I spent every single day for five years providing good content, and knowing my demographics. There was no spike – maybe a little one during the [2013 Boston Marathon bombing], but I didn’t tweet that much about what was happening, only the really important information. I get about 100 followers a day, give or take. If I do a giveaway its about 200.
What subjects are Bostonians most interested in?
It depends. The demo is really focused on the one in three population in Boston, people aged 20 to 34, who live in the city, and use the Red and Green Lines. Stuff right now getting tons of attention is the late night MBTA service. When I first started tweeting about the public pianos last July the response was overwhelming. I could tell it would be a massive hit. And the Cape Flyer train to Cape Cod has caught on. Some things are really duds, and you can see it’s not going to work because there’s no bite to it. It’s such a large audience, and it’s interesting because it gets an immediate reaction.
How many hours a day on social media?
I only spend between five and ten minutes a day, not really a lot. I’m extremely selective. When I first started I’d tweet about almost everything happening. It was overwhelming to try to keep up.
Do you think it’s a necessity for businesses use social media?
Certainly business can make it without it. Most places in Chinatown are not on Twitter and they do really well. And in the North End too, there are some old school businesses, and none of them are really on Twitter. Others are phenomenal at giving locations a really personal touch [online], sharing when people get engaged at their restaurants, and tweeting out food photos. You create a connection with them, which makes you want to come in and meet them
What about public figures; do you think they have an obligation to be online?
Yeah I do. People like the mayor, the police commissioner, and celebrities should use it, because you can hear directly from them; hear their voice. If Marty Walsh has something to say, he doesn’t need to call the press, he can say it right now. Marty’s been doing really good with using Twitter and Facebook chats. He’s creating a visual of himself just to show that he is actually a real, living person.
What’s your advice for people who want to grow their following?
I get that question a lot. Every time I give my answer they hate it. It’s really difficult. I can see why people give up on tweeting; if you’re talking, and no one is listening. But if people want a strong following on Twitter, or their blog, it’s about marketing strong content, and really focus on a niche audience. Boston Tweet is for people who just have an interest in Boston. It’s tough to tell if they liv in Boston, but I would say over 75% still live in the city the rest have a love and interest in Boston.
Tell me about your new #DownloadBoston initiative.
Most people don’t know all the startups based here. It’s not like you can walk by a new startup and see that they exist. It’s a super simple site [DownloadBoston.com] with the basic concept of trying to create awareness for Boston-based startups. My goal is to work with local retailers, hotels, cafes and restaurants to put them front and center, and get more of a national exposure for us too. On a national scale our [startups] are not covered like launches in D.C. I do have passion for the city. It’s a great place to live. The great thing about local businesses is that the people that own them are usually there, and I think it’s a much better experience. It’s about keeping money local and keeping jobs local, and the more in the city the more people we hire, so it’s great.