Twitter clutter

This social media fad may go too far for some.

Social media and how to use it is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in non-commercial foodservice. I will be presenting a talk on the subject at the upcoming HFM conference in Indian Wells, Calif., and SFM has Michael Atkinson, founder of foodservice social media site FohBoh, on the program at its national conference next month in San Francisco.

In doing research for my HFM presentation, I have learned much more than I ever wanted to about how social media can be used. In many people’s minds, there is much value in using applications such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as marketing tools. However, other people see these things as mere toys, playthings for the self-absorbed, and you can’t really blame them.

Twitter is an excellent example of the ambiguous nature of social media. I have talked with operators, particularly in the college and university market, who see Twitter has an excellent way of promoting foodservice to student customers. Short bursts of information about new menu items, special events and even nutrition guidelines can help to educate customers and put dining services in a more favorable light.

But then you pick up the newspaper and read about the ways some people—particularly celebrities—use this medium and you can’t help but wonder how it is perceived by the public at large.

There is the story about the woman who sent out tweets to her friends about, and apparently even during, a bank robbery to which she had been a witness.

American Idol judge Paula Abdul used Twitter to announce that she was leaving the popular reality show. Athletes like Lance Armstrong and Michael Phelps love to tweet their status during competitions, and the number of followers they have suggests that people love to read their tweets.

Other people are not so happy about how Twitter is being used. In the sports world, several NFL teams have tried to restrict players, and even reporters and fans, from using Twitter while at training camp. Ostensibly, teams fear that some unscrupulous character might be tweeting secrets about the team to other teams’ coaches.

Or else they are just worried about bad publicity. Most recently, the San Diego Chargers fined one of its players, Antonio Cromartie, $2,500 for using Twitter to complain to his followers about the quality of the food in training camp.

So it’s easy to understand why the jury is still out on how valuable Twitter and other social media can be as marketing tools. But I would caution operators about rushing to judgment about social media. Like any new technology, there are growing pains associated with using social media.

But for better or worse, social media is the future of communication. Foodservice operators may find that ignoring it as a fad or a toy for narcissistic will be a strategy for failure. Approach with caution, but by all means give it a chance.

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