Tweet and Go Seek blends art, virtual world, real-time activity, marketing


Matthew Barnes says he’s been fascinated with marketing and advertising since childhood, watching TV commercials and determining their effectiveness based on imagery and language. In fact, he frequently paid more attention to commercials than the programming they interrupted.

Today, Barnes’s brainchild, Tweet and Go Seek, provides brands access to a new and existing customer network where they can engage in a conversation that isn’t directed by either party.

Additionally, “we supply participants with a fun way to engage with their favorite brands while collecting original art, getting familiar with their city, and saving money at great local spots,” Barnes says. “We get the satisfaction of knowing that our artworks are being collected and our message is being shared.”

Read on to learn more about Tweet and Go Seek, including how it’s played, which Columbus restaurateur helped get it off the ground locally, and what the common thread is between all Tweet and Go Seek’s brand partners.

The Metropreneur: First, how does Tweet and Go Seek work?

Matthew Barnes of Tweet and Go Seek

Matthew Barnes: Tweet and Go Seek hides one-of-a kind, original artworks around a city accompanied by an additional value from a local brand placed on the back with instructions on how to redeem the value. The Tweet and Go Seek piece is photographed in the environment, left behind, and tweeted to numerous followers. Followers then have an opportunity to read the tweet in their feed, view the photo, recognize the location of the object, and decide whether they can or even want to attempt to chase it down.

It gets highly competitive. Some players have gotten very, very good! You can actually get a text message from Twitter every time @tweetandgoseek sends out a tweet. This is what allows for the fast tracking of the goods.

[M]: Tweet and Go Seek came up during Startup Weekend Columbus 2010, right? Was the concept for the business created or improved upon that weekend?

MB: It was improved upon with the help of Brett Proffitt and Bryce Thornton. I also got some great advice from Jon Myers, Dan Rockwell, and Alvin Borromeo. They really helped me work out some of the kinks and think through new ways to add value and expand.

I started Tweet and Go Seek in December of 2009 in Miami Beach at Art Basel. I took down 50 pieces with no value other than the promise of an “official certificate of ownership” and got a 35 percent return rate− a fairly decent return for any marketing campaign. I came back to Columbus and @ mentioned Liz Lessner and said, “I’ve got a good idea for a marketing campaign, wanna hear it?” She replied with, “What’s up dude?”

From there, we met and did our first campaign together in March of 2010, after SUWC10. It was a hit! She received an 85 percent return rate and we’ve worked together four times since. I honestly can’t thank her enough for being such an integral part of Tweet and Go Seek! I love that girl, not only for giving me a chance to try out this idea but for everything she stands for and all of her community involvement. She is a sincere staple in the city of Columbus and, alongside a dedicated few, we wouldn’t be nearly as progressive as we are if it weren’t for her/their perseverance.

I also can’t thank the Greater Columbus Arts Council enough for including me in their ArtsFest programming for the past two years. They have really done a dynamite job in providing us with an opportunity to reach an even further targeted demographic while continually plugging the effectiveness of the campaign throughout the year. They too are an integral part of the success that we’ve experienced.

[M]: How do you choose which brands to partner with?

MB: Just as any person chooses the products in which they use to identify themselves with, i.e. deodorant, shoes, technology: by how they make me feel, look, act. I only want to partner with brands that can tell me why they do what they do. Everyone knows what they do, few can tell you how, but only the best can tell you why.

I will only support brands that emanate a mission of greater cause through the sale/trade of their goods/services. Whether that be by providing a location to enjoy delicious dishes created with local love or a non-profit trying to provide an outlet for displaced groups. However we can manifold the good going on in communities, the better. And that’s who I want to hang out with.

[M]: What makes Tweet and Go Seek unique from a marketing perspective?

MB: Besides the original art work, real-time activity and the seamless blending of the physical and virtual world, simply as a marketing campaign, Tweet and Go Seek has control of the message that is being projected. Brands have the ability to adhere themselves to our messaging and benefit from something that does not require their complete control. Instead of just puking information on passersby, like most advertising, players make a conscious choice to engage with the brand and campaign, giving brands greater control of what’s being offered and making it more attractive for potential customers.

Unlike other real world/virtual environmental games, Tweet and Go Seek utilizes the existing framework of the Internet to facilitate mutual benefit for brands and consumers. Although our website is helpful in laying out the rules, we don’t need an app, or really even a website, to make it happen. All you need is a Twitter account and a mobile phone/tablet/laptop and you can play.

[M]: You create the 4 inch by 4 inch pieces of art used for Tweet and Go Seek. How would you describe your artwork?

MB: I’d say the work is poetic, quirky, absurd, prophetic, and deliberate. I am very interested in how information is organized and projected in an attempt to illicit a response. I create these pieces as a commentary on popular advertising and the attempted influence it tries to have.

I think it’s important to understand the power of words and images and the influence they have on our thoughts and actions, especially those that we peripherally or subconsciously consume. I think it’s time to recognize the intent of all those smarmy marketeers of yesteryears, reverse it, and do things that are equally beneficial for the people, our shared culture, and the environment− not for the pocketbooks of a few people who are not truly adding any value to our shared experiences. As sappy as this is going to sound, I love humans and want all humans to love each other unconditionally. That’s it!

I’d like to add that I do intend to take a step back from making the artworks to allow other artists the opportunity to share their work with the following. One day we will have a voting system for the artists that will be shown in the campaigns. This will allow for greater reach and more active engagement from others’ networks.

[M]: How many Tweet and Go Seek games have been played to date and how many people participated in the most recent game?

MB: There have been a total of five campaigns, not including the current one. Currently, we’ve left out over 500 pieces with more on the way. It’s hard to quantify the number of active participants because once the tweet is posted it travels through several other handles and may reach any number of people. One of the tools I use to measure activity is the amount of views each image has. Recently, we’ve been averaging right at about 100 views per tweeted image and only one person actually gets the piece. In my book, that’s a stacked flight!

[M]: How do you plan to grow Tweet and Go Seek in Columbus?

MB: I’d like to amass a band of brands together for quarterly campaigns. I think that if we do too many, it makes them complacent and they become less anticipatory and less engaging. I like to build up the hype, drop the campaign, and disappear for a little while. That would keep it fresh and allow us to move into other cities to conduct it similarly.

[M]: What needs to happen before you’d attempt expansion into other cities?

MB: The plate needs to keep spinning here in Columbus, so we can take it to those other cities and show those brands the level of success we’ve experienced here, show them some hard numbers while working on building a localized presence in each city. The biggest feat we face is surmounting the time it will take to reach out to those brands individually and pitch, unless they approach us first.  That would be ideal.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

MB: Tweet and Go Seek was created with the idea in mind that collectors would eventually start to buy, sell, and trade the Tweet and Go Seek pieces online, creating an entirely separate market for their continued value. Once this happens we’ve essentially created a currency and given inherent worth to any of the other things created under the Tweet and Go Seek arsenal. It would be a new kind of collector’s market, like baseball cards, figurines, or fine art.

To learn more about Tweet and Go Seek, visit