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TMCNet:  Food gurus harness power of Twitter [Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. :: ]

[May 19, 2014]

Food gurus harness power of Twitter [Star-News, Wilmington, N.C. :: ]

(Star-News (Wilmington, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 19--I did the math: $271,440.

That's what I've been leaving on the table. It stings, I assure you.

That number, of course, is the total annual value of my Twitter account if celebrity chef Jonathon Sawyer's quarterly rate of $65 per "follow" is a realistic pricing scheme for lending a nod of cyber credibility to an interested (and paying) party.


He's not alone. Sawyer is only one of several noted culinarians marketing their good graces through the website www.IfOnly.com, which peddles "extraordinary experiences" with celebrated "luminaries at the top of their fields" to the benefit of numerous non-profit organizations.

Chef Michael Chirarello will send you a direct message via Twitter for $250. Noted bartender David Wondrich is offering a "bespoke cocktail recipe" based on specifications spelled out during a 45-minute phone call with buyers for $1,000. And chef and Food Network host Tyler Florence? Well, he'll design and then later prepare a meal in your custom-crafted kitchen for $45,000 (cost of architect and construction not included).

All of the above, and countless other luxury curios, benefit the James Beard Foundation, which Anthony Bourdain famously described as "a kind of benevolent shakedown operation" during the organization's well-publicized and scandal-ridden era in the early 2000s.

With the admittedly cheap pot shots at a handful of undeniably gifted professionals out of the way, I figured it might be worth peeking into what some of the above might mean in real terms to area businesses.

Twitter is of particular interest. With late 2013 numbers showing the site generating 400 million daily tweets from 200 million users, I was curious to see how relevant the microblogging service remained to area restaurateurs eight years after founder Jack Dorsey delivered the world's first tweet.

Mindy Stroup is the corporate communications guru at LM Restaurants, the Raleigh-based parent company that owns some of the region's best-known brands, including Bluewater, Oceanic, Carolina Ale House, Henry's, Eddie Romanelli's and Hops Supply Co. She said that social media in general has proven enormously useful, particularly in promoting each property's daily specials and drink deals. But the benefit goes far beyond basic marketing. The company has cultivated a team of so-called "fanatics" at each eatery to give those spots an individual voice in the increasingly crowded Internet.

"That is our goal, to be as local as possible," Stroup said, noting that the designated spokespersons can be anyone from line cooks to bartenders to managers. "They have to like and want to do social media, and they have to understand the brand and their restaurant." Stroup specifically cited "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon's popular #Hashtag bits -- a comedy routine based on the overuse of a particular Twitter function -- as an example of why the company has pursued an engaged web presence.

"This is what people are talking about, and we are definitely are going to continue to develop it because we're not on all social media outlets yet," Stroup said, noting that several properties were also adding photo-sharing Instagram accounts.

A number of area eateries are using their Twitter accounts in ways that directly benefit the customer beyond simply providing daily specials. YoSake, for example, runs a "check comp jackpot" Tuesday through Thursday where diners earn a shot at a free meal by tweeting the restaurant's @YoSakeILM Twitter handle during their visits.

"It's undeniable that business has grown since we started taking it more seriously and as we've learned what a positive tool it is," said Nick Gray, YoSake's marketing chief. "Aside from promoting ourselves, I think that social media has also been a great way for us to interact with our business peers and neighbors in Wilmington. In a small city like Wilmington, it's important that we stick together." Steve Gibbs, owner of Ogden beer shop Fermental, treats social media as a classroom, frequently doling out interesting bits of beer trivia.

"I think it's a little more engaging than just photographs," Gibbs said. "I'm just a big fan of odd facts, and if I can relate that into my business, it's a lot of fun." For the latest tweets from area restaurants, subscribe to the ILM Eats list at the @PortCityFoodies account. Contact Paul Stephen at 343-2041 or Paul.Stephen@StarNewsOnline.com. Find him on Twitter @pauljstephen, or drop a note at the Port City Foodies' Facebook page.

___ (c)2014 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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