“Excited about the dinner I am preparing for our guests tonight in The Loft at Soby's.” 11:12 a.m., March 14, from web — Twitter message sent by The Loft at Soby's in Greenville, S.C.
The above text is an advertisement, one targeted directly to approved customers, written by a restaurant staffer and sent at no cost to thousands of phones and computers in seconds. While such short-message marketing might idle some ad copywriters, operators say it's pushing customers through the doors of restaurants. Credit Twitter, that oddly named but increasingly effective social media tool now building a nest in the business community.
Twitter was created in 2006 to help friends stay in touch in real time via email and cellular phones. By sending 140-character messages — about 20 words — ranging from such logical “Where are you now?” questions to inane “John's bored and at his desk” updates, folks know what's going on with their “tweeps,” or Twitter friends, all day.
Now, however, many restaurants are "tweeting" — Twitter-speak for sending messages — to make customers aware of special deals and events. They’re also reaching customers directly with personal communiqués reminding, “Hey, come see us again.”
Richard Peck, business development director for Table 301, a restaurant group in Greenville, S.C., was certain Twitter would fly in the restaurant industry when he first saw it work a year ago. Fifteen years prior, Peck co-founded an Internet start-up company, which preconditioned him to recognize Twitter's tech potential. Table 301's six restaurants now market via Twitter.
“It was like, ‘Wow, this is Web 2.0, the next generation,’ ” said Peck, recalling first seeing Twitter. “The only time I remember having that same feeling was during the early era of the Internet.”
Peck said Twitter is perfect for restaurateurs, hospitality pros who like to interact personally with customers. He said operators have little time to create advertisements, and customers have even less time to read them. Addressing them with short messages through mobile devices or computers, which Twitter does simultaneously, is about ideal, he said.
If you don't know twit from twat about Twitter, count yourself among the flock, said Nick Powills, owner of No Limit Media Consulting, a social media strategy firm in Atlanta. Social media tools are evolving so fast that few can stay abreast of all the changes, but that doesn't mean it's wise to ignore them, he added.
“Twitter's particularly cool because it's immediate and because the people who use it have chosen to follow you,” said Powills. “Followers” are people who've elected to receive another Twitter's “tweets.”
“These are customers who want to know right now what's going on at your restaurant,” he noted. “They like being connected.”
But does being connected via Twitter increase sales? Octavio Mantilla, a partner in the New Orleans-based Besh Restaurant Group, believes that happens indirectly. Inviting customers to an ongoing conversation about his restaurants increases the likelihood someone either will become a customer or will point others to the restaurant.
“Instead of a traditional mailing list, Twitter allows us to actually have a dialogue with our customers,” Mantilla said. “Instead of talking at them, we are talking with them.”
Joel Johnson social media manager for Panchero's Franchise Corp., parent of 54-unit Panchero's Mexican Grill, said “tweets” touting the day's special sent just before meal periods do drive people to stores. He also pushes out special “tweets” saying that he's going to be in a store and buy burritos for the first few followers who come and identify themselves.
“Every Friday at 11 a.m., we send out a trivia question to get people to respond,” said Johnson, whose company is in Coralville, Iowa. “Winning free food is always a bonus, so we get a good response for that.”
When Table 301's Lazy Goat restaurant added lunch service, one of its partners “tweeted” followers about the change.
“Almost instantly, three guys from the local public relations and advertising community walked in and said, ‘We just got your tweet. We had no idea this was open for lunch,’ ” Peck said. “That's a good, measurable response.”
While a Twitter account and page are simple to set up, Peck, Johnson and Powills stressed that good management of “tweet” traffic is essential. Followers must be correctly selected — they can’t be just anyone, but should be existing or qualified potential customers — and communication must be regular. Establishing a Twitter page and then abandoning it is bad “twittiquet” that might spur some bird-brained retribution.
“It sounds crazy, I know, but some people get mad when that happens,” said Powills. He said having a static Twitter page is akin to inviting others into a conversation and then turning your back on them. “Just getting a page pretty much says, ‘I want to talk to you.’ So if you don't update it, people can write some nasty things about you.”