“Tweet for Treats: The New Way Brands Are Encouraging Social Media Activity” by By Lauren Matthews, Biz Bash

<p>  Guests at the ASOS Penthouse in Miami received free swimsuits from a tweet-activated vending machine.</p> Guests at the ASOS Penthouse in Miami received free swimsuits from a tweet-activated vending machine. Photo: Courtesy of the DFM

As brands continually search for new ways to engage fans and expand the reach of live events, one company has found a way to put a fresh spin on a familiar item: the vending machine. Innovative Vending Solutions is an Ohio-based company founded in 2008 that specializes in fabricating and configuring a variety of tricked-out automated vending systems to dispense almost any kind of product. Last year, it created its first Twitter-activated model, an interactive machine that dispenses goods in exchange for tweets, rather than money. The idea has taken off, and Innovative Vending Solutions has since handled social-media-fueled machines for brands including BareMinerals (with On Board Experiential Marketing), Polaroid (with BMF Media), and Twitter itself.

Ideal for product launches and promotional events, the Wi-Fi-connected machines can be stocked with practically anything, from single items to product-filled custom bags. In order to receive a gift, guests follow instructions on a touch-screen interface, which prompts them to tweet at the brand’s handle along with a unique hashtag that refreshes after each use. (If an item inside the machine comes in different styles or sizes, such as a T-shirt, guests also get a specific hashtag that corresponds to each size.) “Everyone always gives away free products—this is a way to get guests to advertise for you in exchange for that free product,” says Innovative Vending Solutions’s vice president of operations, Jeff Thibodeau. The machines range from $9,000 to $30,000, depending on whether it’s a tweaked off-the-shelf system or one that’s customized from top to bottom, like an Android-shaped machine built for Google to showcase its mobile-wallet function at trade shows. “Many of the companies that come to us don’t want to purchase their own machine, but rather just need to rent it for a couple of days,” Thibodeau says. To that end, the company offers a turnkey solution that includes everything from branded skins and a custom software interface to worldwide shipping and on-site support. “Oftentimes, we’ll send out a technician to get the machine up and running and then teach staffers how to restock it themselves—any software issues can be fixed remotely.” While Twitter has been the most popular platform so far, the company also just launched a trade show badge-activated machine, and is working on a Facebook-compatible model.

This past summer, Innovative Vending Solutions supplied experiential marketing company the dFm with a tweet-operated vending machine as part of a cross-country tour for fashion e-tailer ASOS. “In each city, we filled the machines with bags of different items,” says Linda Kovacs, the dFm’s director of partnerships and integrated marketing. “For example, at Lollapalooza they held sunglasses, and at Fashion Week Swim in Miami they were filled with bathing suits.” At the end of each event, the machine—which held 200 gift bags—was empty. “The online feedback was great,” Kovacs says.