The saga of Bonehead the Cat may carry some useful lessons for the way meetings generate interest and contacts in host communities.

Bonehead, a.k.a. Rupert, became a local hero after losing his way on the mean streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Actually, the mean rooftops. Halifax roofs are often built at steep angles and covered in slate, so once you’ve clambered to the top of a building, it can be tough to get back down.

That’s what happened to Bonehead, who spent several days stranded—in the hot sun, with no water—until neighbors Jesse Doyle and Seth Graham noticed his plight. Local animal control and fire departments couldn’t help. Distraught, Doyle turned to Twitter, and #savebonehead soon became a trending topic.

The owner of Boneheads BBQ, the neighborhood eatery for which the stray was named, called Leonard McCarthy of Five Star Roofing, who dropped by after hours with a tall ladder, a bag, and some soft, soothing words for a very nervous cat. After 15 minutes, Bonehead jumped into the bag, and was soon eating, drinking, and settling into his new life with Doyle and Graham.

But that’s not where it ended. Someone following the hashtag realized that Bonehead looked a lot like a cat whose owner had posted a lost pet notice on Kijiji, a Craigslist-type bulletin board that operates across Canada. The owner confirmed that this was indeed his cat, put up a reward for the rescue, offered to cover vet bills, and invited Doyle and Graham to adopt Rupert/Bonehead, who soon became the subject of a LOLcats-style poster. Local media picked up the Twitter story, and Five Star Roofing and Boneheads BBQ both got huge publicity boosts.

It’s pretty clear that little of the story’s momentum would have built up without Twitter. What caught my attention was that this was a local use for a medium that is most widely recognized for transmitting urgent information around the world, or helping people with specific interests find each other online. Back in Halifax, it turned out that Doyle, Graham, and Bonehead’s original owner lived a short distance apart, but had never met.

So what does this tell us about conferences that bring people together from across a country or around the world, based on shared interests?

Would we boost attendance if we used Twitter to reach prospective attendees in host communities, then worked outward in concentric circles to find the wider audience within commuter rail or driving distance of an event?

Can social media build on the good example of Visit Denmark’s Meetovation program, which offers to help professional and scientific conferences find local subject specialists with whom participants might want to line up side meetings while they’re in town?

The answer surely depends on how widely Twitter is used in a particular community, professional or geographic. But the saga of Halifax’s Bonehead reminds us that the best contacts, sometimes lifesaving contacts, might be right around the corner. Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at and tweets as @mitchellbeer.