Bronx cobra a Twitter sssensation -- and business opportunity

As snake becomes online celebrity, smart enterprises get in on the fun

An adventurous but deadly Egyptian cobra this week created an online marketing bonanza for a few businesses clever enough to take advantage of the Twitter sensation.

The highly venomous snake slipped away from its enclosure at the Bronx Zoo last Saturday and caused a ruckus as news of the missing snake spread. The cobra, which was found today, became New York's newest celebrity.

Actually, the 20-inch-long snake became a Twitter celebrity, as well, after an anonymous @BronxZoosCobra Twitter feed appeared on Monday. Since then, the "snake" has posted tweets about visiting the Statue of Liberty, singing White Snake at a karaoke bar, and the trials of trying to catch a cab.

"On top of the Empire State Building! All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice. #snakeonthetown," @BronxZoosCobra tweeted.

And adding to New Yorkers' fears about the snake's whereabouts, @BronxZoosCobra also tweeted, "If you see a bag of peanuts inexplicably moving along the ground at Yankee Stadium today. Just ignore it. It's probably nothing."

The Twitter feed's timeliness and wit gained it more than 207,000 followers.

And it also created quite an enterprise marketing opportunity for a few businesses clever enough to jump on slither train.

The Hilton New York (@HiltonNewYork) hotel was quick to take advantage of the more than 200,000 eyes on the Twitter feed by getting in on the fun and tweeting about a "cobra special" and offering the snake a place to stay and get warm, as well as a space to host any press events.

"@bronxzooscobra Do you have a place to stay in NYC tonight? We can offer you the Penthouse ssssuite," tweeted the Hilton.

And @BronxZoosCobra was quick to reply with, "Cushy and warm," in a retweet.

New York's Magnolia Bakery (@magnoliabakery) also got in on the fun and got the business' name out there by tweeting, "@BronxZoosCobra Slither back to the bakery...we'll make you something ssssuper sssssweet!"

The folks at Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) joined in, along with The Ellen Show and SpaSally (@spasally).

"It's pretty funny stuff, but it's also an example of how some little thing like this can become an online sensation very, very quickly," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "And the handful of businesses that are engaging in tweets with the snake are doing a great job of taking advantage of the situation, having fun with it, and getting great attention on their brand. All of this for almost zero cost."

It's a great example of paying attention to what's hot on social networking sites and taking advantage of it to better an enterprise, he added.

"It probably also might not be so good if the snake ends up killing someone, but that's the risk you take when you ride on events you can't control -- like the adventures of meandering poisonous snakes," said Olds.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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