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#CES2020: How brands battle for your attention on Twitter, Instagram

Companies try every trick, stunt or ploy they can conjure up to catch your eye online.

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There were nearly half a million tweets using #CES2020 from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10.

James Martin/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

It's tough to get noticed at CES. So Nissan set up a mini golf course with a feature the Japanese car giant thought would be social media catnip: a guaranteed hole-in-one.

Standing at the carmaker's exhibit, I putted a golf ball equipped with similar driver-assistance technology to that used in the Nissan Skyline, an upscale sedan. The ProPilot golf ball wound its way over the green as CES attendees whipped out their phones. Then it dropped in the hole with a satisfying plunk.

"We make sure that we have all these engaging activities...for people to share," said Camille Lim, who leads Nissan's content team in Japan. "In terms of the content, they can post their own." 

Sure enough, videos of Nissan's putting green and the smart golf ball made the rounds on Twitter and Instagram bearing #CES2020 or #NissanCES hashtags. One tweet of the golf course posted by a tech influencer got more than a million views.

Posting to social media at CES can feel like shouting in a crowd. The tech show's crowded hashtag is a seemingly endless scroll of selfies, news stories and videos featuring robots, futuristic cars, an invisible phone keyboard and smart fridges. Roughly 4,500 companies exhibited at the show, and many tried to stand out on social media. They used targeted ads, their own hashtags, eye-catching videos and, like Nissan, interactive experiences, 

More than 450,000 tweets used #CES2020 during the show, which ran from Jan. 7 to 10. Facebook-owned Instagram hosted more than 55,000 posts with the hashtag. Videos bearing the #ces2020 hashtag were viewed more than 15 million times on TikTok. 

Four of five of the most-retweeted tweets using the #CES2020 hashtag were in Japanese. The most-retweeted tweet, which was shared more than 28,000 times, displayed photos of keyboards in green, pink, blue, and black-and-white shown in the booth of Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen Caddy Technology.

"Too cute," wrote Twitter user @shinoalice_kabo, whose feed is filled with images of keyboards. 

The Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES, will release more thorough data in the coming months on social media's reach at the show. Last year, more than 5,000 tweets about CES were posted every hour during the show. The CTA hopes this year's social media chatter was even bigger.

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A photographer shoots video of the Lenovo Smart Frame for an Instagram post. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Crammed between journalists and business partners, Lenovo's social media team was hard at work recording videos and shooting photos to use during CES and later in the year. 

One photographer focused on a product manager who rotated the Lenovo Smart Frame vertically and then horizontally. The video was later posted to Instagram and Twitter, where it racked up roughly 750,300 views combined. Earlier that day, a Lenovo executive read off a teleprompter as videographers from marketing consulting company Findasense recorded the brief speech -- footage that could be used in a recap of CES on social media or in an employee video. 

"Everyone's here to be part of the future of innovation, so this is our place to put our stamp on that," said Taylor Wilson, who manages social media content for Lenovo.

As in previous years, Lenovo also targeted Twitter ads at users who have interacted with the brand in the past or those who used CES hashtags. The company also had its own hashtag for the event. Lenovo used LinkedIn, the professional network, to broadcast a roughly four-minute live video showcasing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, Yoga 5G and other products at its space at The Venetian. 

The Chinese company pored over data and social media chatter to hone its strategy around foldable phones and 5G, two topics it focused on this year. Lenovo monitored discussions about the topics on social media to see if the company was showing up in discussions about them, said Kirsten Hamstra, director of worldwide social marketing at Lenovo. 

Social conversation around Lenovo as a brand and products jumped 33% during CES 2020 from CES 2019, she said.

Alex Josephson, who heads a team called Twitter Next that helps brands on content strategy, said using data to figure out what their customers want, along with a strong human voice, is critical for companies to succeed on the social network. 

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One reason marketers come to Twitter, he said, is to connect to what's happening, which can be an event like CES. In 2018, for example, Toyota livestreamed a keynote that its president was delivering in a video on Twitter that got nearly 8 million views. 

"The key is understanding how the audience is behaving and what they're talking about right now, because our platform is open," Josephson said. 

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Ice cream served at Nissan's booth included the company's CES hashtag. 

Queenie Wong/CNET

Nissan didn't limit itself to the mini golf course. The company brought a zero-emissions ice cream truck to the show to show off a recycled battery system called Energy Roam, which kept the frosty treats from melting. The vanilla ice cream served to visitors came in a cup bearing the carmaker's CES hashtag,  #NissanCES. A traditional Japanese rice cracker displayed an image of Nissan's Ariya Concept, an electric SUV that was also at the booth. 

In a blatant appeal to social media users, Nissan set up a station for visitors to take a "power selfie" directly behind its Nissan Formula E electric race car. The booth blasts air into visitors faces for 2.8 seconds, illustrating the time it takes for the car to go from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 mph). It also blows your hair back for a glamorous shot.

During the show, Nissan's Twitter account shared images and photos of CES attendees who took power selfies, ate ice cream and played golf at their booth. 

Outside of providing fun ways for visitors to learn about the carmaker, Nissan also posted short videos meant to grab viewers in the first three to five seconds and purchased ads. Lim, Nissan's content chief, said the idea is to show the public how Nissan is part of the "future of mobility." 

"There's a lot of conversations going on," Lim said. "If you're not promoting your stuff, it probably will not rise to the top."

Originally published Jan. 15 at 5 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:51 a.m. PT: Adds data from Lenovo.