Richard Easton loves the mixed grill special at Mangal 2, a family-owned Turkish restaurant in the gentrifying East London neighborhood of Dalston. What first drew him, though, wasn’t the food. It was the sassy, profanity-laden commentary on the restaurant’s Twitter feed.
“It’s very focused on London life and making fun of groups like hipsters,” said Easton, 26, who finally visited the restaurant last month after following it on Twitter since summer. “The food was really good and I was impressed,” he said -- though he was surprised at how serious the staff was, given the tone of the Twitter feed.
Mangal 2 tweets, penned by the owner’s 25-year-old son, have as much to do with soccer and current events as they do with kebabs or koftas. “Don’t be too surprised when Facebook buys your Mum for $3 billion,” declares one. During the Olympics, he posted: “Today’s special is the Sochi Kebab: same kebab but served ice cold. Gay customers get 40 percent off. Putin’s not welcome.”
With more than 11,000 followers, Mangal 2 shows that slick marketing isn’t always the key to raising brand awareness. No longer just a forum for self-absorbed musings, Twitter has become a venue where small businesses such as watering holes, booksellers and florists connect with fans and customers -- and have fun doing it.
“Some of the tweets are a bit crude and provocative, but it’s real and it’s got a voice instead of just Instagramming food images and saying today’s special is so and so,” said Ferhat Dirik, Mangal 2’s Twitter-meister. In December, his tweets landed him a job as a social media editor at the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper.
A half-hour walk from Mangal 2 is The Dolphin, a pub that has garnered almost 22,000 followers. Its feed is run by David Levin, 33, a former writer at MTV who often stops in at The Dolphin for a pint or two. During the 2011 riots in London, Levin created @The_Dolphin_pub when it was rumored the building had been torched.
The next day, the feed had 1,000 followers, and it soon gained recognition for humorous 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.”
Though the Dolphin now has its own Twitter account, @dolphinhackney, Levin still tweets under the original name with the blessing of the pub’s owner -- and has eight times as many followers.
“Twitter is now part of the equation for branding,” said Levin, who says it’s not uncommon for new customers at The Dolphin to say they heard about the pub because of the tweets. “I’ve seen the power of Twitter firsthand.”
Levin, too, has spun his Twitter experience into a job. He has tweeted for Adidas, L’Oreal and Ikea, where he posed as a single mom in her mid-20s as part of an ad campaign for making do with small spaces.
Last summer, Levin set up a group of social-media writers-for-hire, called That Lot. The group runs one-day Twitter training workshops for 120 pounds ($200). Levin’s advice: be short, be topical and engage with followers.
“A lot of advertisers don’t get” Twitter, said Paul Frampton, chief executive officer at Havas Media, the ad placement arm of French advertising company Havas SA. “People have to be brought into the conversation on Twitter and it has to be more of an opinion or you won’t get followers.”
The upside to Twitter is that it’s free and small businesses can reach as many people as they can attract. On Facebook, by contrast, large brands are increasingly paying to win fans. Aside from slapping ads directly on the site, Facebook advertisers can target consumers based on location, demographics and interests and build pages for brands to interact with customers through posts, events and offers.
“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,” said James Whatley, head of social media at ad company Ogilvy & Mather. Facebook declined to comment.
Small business owners without sassy, media-savvy offspring or a knack for writing punchy sentences can hire someone to run their Twitter account. Will Wynne, a former private equity banker at Credit Agricole who founded an online florist called ArenaFlowers.com, turned to a pro to pen his Twitter feed. Since it was launched 18 months ago, the account has attracted more than 22,000 followers.
Wynne’s aim was to get readers to think of flowers beyond the two-to-three times annually that most people buy them. He says sales have increased 30 percent since his Twitter account 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 tweets, “there’s no doubt Twitter has helped,” he said. “Twitter has humanized our brand and in the end, life’s too short and we like to have a bit of fun.”