Richard Easton loves the mixed grill special at Mangal 2, a family-owned restaurant in the gentrifying East London neighborhood of Dalston. But what first drew him there wasn’t the Turkish fare. It was the humorous, profanity-laden commentary on the restaurant’s Twitter (TWTR) feed, which has amassed more than 11,000 followers. “It’s very focused on London life and making fun of groups like hipsters,” says Easton, who visited the restaurant last month after following it on Twitter since the summer and pronounced himself “impressed.”
Composed by Ferhat Dirik, the restaurant owner’s 25-year-old son, the Mangal 2 tweets have as much to do with soccer and current events as with kebabs or koftas. “Don’t be too surprised when Facebook buys your Mum for $3 billion,” declares one. During the Olympics, Dirik posted: “Today’s special is the Sochi Kebab: same kebab but served ice cold. Gay customers get 40 percent off. Putin’s not welcome.”
Successful practitioners of the art of tweeting for business say the key is to refrain from purely commercial messages. “Some of the tweets are a bit crude and provocative,” says Dirik, whose savvy landed him a job as a social media editor at the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper in December. But “it’s got a voice instead of just Instagramming food images and saying today’s special is so-and-so.”
One advantage of Twitter is that it’s free, while on Facebook (FB), by contrast, large brands increasingly have to pay to win more fans. “Small businesses like a pub, florist, and restaurant can all have a social media voice on Twitter because it’s the same for everyone, while Facebook is becoming a paid platform,” says James Whatley, head of social media at ad company Ogilvy & Mather (WPPGY).
A half-hour walk from Mangal 2 is the Dolphin, a pub that has more than 22,000 followers on Twitter. Its feed is run by David Levin, a 33-year-old patron who was once a writer at MTV (VIA). Levin set up @The_Dolphin_Pub when rumors began circulating that the building had been torched during street riots that broke out in London in 2011. The next day the feed had 1,000 followers, and it soon gained recognition for tweets such as: “FYI: for the price of a gym membership, you could take a skipping rope to the pub three times a week and drink gin while you work out.”
Although the pub now has its own Twitter account, @dolphinhackney, Levin still tweets under the original name with the owner’s blessing—and has eight times as many followers. “Twitter is now part of the equation for branding,” says Levin, who accepts pints as payment. Levin also has tweeted professionally for Adidas (ADS:GR), L’Oréal, and Ikea, where he posed as a single mom in her mid-20s in support of a TV ad campaign about making do with small spaces. Last summer he set up a group of social media writers-for-hire called That Lot. The collective runs one-day Twitter training workshops, charging £120 ($200) per person. Levin’s advice: Be short, be topical, and engage with followers.
Will Wynne, a former private equity banker at Crédit Agricole who founded an online florist called ArenaFlowers.com, turned to a pro to pen his Twitter feed. Since it was started 18 months ago, the account has attracted about 22,000 followers. Wynne’s aim was to get readers to think of flowers beyond the handful of special occasions when most people buy them. He says sales have increased 30 percent since his Twitter feed started posting tweets such as “When you’re asked what your weaknesses are at a job interview, look lovingly into their eyes, place your hands on theirs and say ‘You.’ ” While Wynne doesn’t attribute the sales boost entirely to the 140-character witticisms, “there’s no doubt Twitter has helped,” he says. “Twitter has humanized our brand, and in the end, life’s too short and we like to have a bit of fun.”