Jeff Lytle: Getting down to business with social-networking’s Twitter

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We carried an Associated Press story in the past week or so about a meeting of Twitter users. It was a dinner party near Tampa.

I went to one that was all about business in North Naples.

About 20 earnest folks — I’ll guess they are in the 30 to 50 age range — get together at 8 a.m. the second Tuesday of the month at Bad Ass Coffee near to BestBuy and Hollywood 20. (Contact Cyndee Woolley at cyndee@C2-com;

The object is the same as any other business meeting — making the most of what you’ve got. What they’ve got is Twitter, a micro-messaging blaster, and other so-called social networking Internet tools that they know cost nothing to use and believe can help them make money. Less certain is whether Twitter is here to stay or the next hula hoop.

I was there for the same reasons. They knew I was taking notes for publication.

One of the key points I took away from the 1-hour, 15-minute gathering with chairs pushed into a circle was that listening is as much or more important than what you say on Twitter. Tuning in to the conversation (by subjects or geography, for example) lets you connect.

I heard a consensus that serious Twittering and blogging is hard work, and that you reap only what you sow. Members discussed how Twitter sign-ups and blog activity is waning — because, they surmised, would-be users didn’t think it through when they started. “Whee!” turned to “What?”

Another message: Look to special-interest groups to see what others are thinking, not new friends. One guy told of car-racing fans being among the first to predict the election of President Barack Obama — even before he had won the Democratic nomination.

I heard brains’ wheels turning. Example: A woman asked how she could reach her target clients — seniors who want to learn how to use the Internet. The group’s response: Go online for their children. (My response: Go online for their grandchildren.)

One guy who has a blog that he says gets 20,000 visits per month says his most widely read item ever took five minutes to write — and was on social networking.

Florida Rep. Matt Hudson said he depends on Google alerts to keep up on what’s in the papers about him in District 101, which reaches from Collier to Broward County. When a Naples reporter asks about a Sun-Sentinel story, he’s ready.

There was concern about balance and avoiding unleashing floods of mind-numbing tweets. There was agreement that tweets of raw real-estate listings are crass — and futile.

Do you respond to everything about you out there that is negative? Absolutely, participants said. Just make sure your responses are focused on the message rather than the messenger and are constructive, positive and right.

There was discussion of one local restaurant, Naples Tomato, using Twitter for special deals. That got him to go, one group member said, and talk about it. But, he went on, the food wasn’t good and he probably won’t go back.

To which another participant said: With appropriate feedback that could be corrected.

Indeed. Naples Tomato co-owner Jack Serfass told me later that private or broadcast Twitter response is part of the deal, and his firm embraces it. He said Naples Tomato’s marketing experience has been overwhelmingly positive — its e-mail list is 7,300 names long — and helps make the business better by putting everyone on notice that a single bad customer experience can go around the world and back. It shows confidence in staff, Serfass said, and the transparency lets everyone know what kind of restaurant it is beforehand.

And, he said frankly, the mildly disgruntled Twitter user still is welcome to air his complaint — privately or publicly.

Twitter that.

There is a learning curve required for Southwest Floridians who are accustomed to guaranteed profits by simply opening a business’ door. No instant gratification. That is all the more reason to use your Twitter profile page to establish your expert status or street cred.

A focal point was a tale about a northwestern pizza place snagging business from a competitor by monitoring tweets among friends going out after work. The listener offered free drinks if the happy hour gang went there. The gang did. The aggressive, attentive pizza place reaped the reward of return business and a wave of happy tweets.

Twitter (ugh, that name). It will never replace good, old-fashioned, face-to-face communication. But it sure can help set up opportunities for contacts that you would never have otherwise.

This is going where a lot of people are.

Or you can complain about them not coming to you.

Jeff Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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