This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2009 - In honor of Twitter co-founder and St. Louis native Jack Dorsey’s hometown appearance on Friday, at 10 a.m. at Webster University’s Loretto-Hilton Center, it seems fitting to look this week at the popular microblogging service from several different angles. Following a news roundup yesterday, here are three tales of how St. Louisans use Twitter for business and pleasure. There's an early adopter looking to engage an artistic audience, an actor looking to promote himself and a newcomer to the microblogging service who's still figuring out how her company can benefit.
The Early Adopter
Brad L. Graham, public relations manager for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, started "living on the internet," as he puts it, in the mid-1990s. He became acquainted with ;the founder of the blog publishing system Blogger, who introduced him to Dorsey.
Graham took an interest in Dorsey's microblogging service several years back and got The Rep on Twitter two years ago. While that doesn't seem like that long ago, among local arts organizations the Rep was one of the first to start tweeting. The theater already had a presence on Facebook and MySpace, and Graham said Twitter was the next logical platform.
The service, he added, has helped the Rep reach out to an artistic audience. "What's become apparent, particularly recently, is that with the decrease in our access to the community through traditional media -- the reduction of space for arts coverage -- what we and a lot of peers recognized is it's time to become our own publisher and reach out in a more organic and grassroots way to audiences we've had and audiences we might like to have in the future."
Graham writes many of the Rep's tweets. Other posts are channeled through him. He estimates that the Rep has about two posts a day, some of which link to an article about the arts or are theater trivia. This summer, while the theater was dark, posts were often about other shows to see in St. Louis. Graham said he strives to be conversational in his posts -- such as a recent one asking people what would be a song that represents St. Louis. He sometimes will tweet about an upcoming show -- with caution.
"If you set out to use the service as a promotional vehicle, it will be no use to you or your audience," he said. "These are social spaces. It doesn't matter whether I'm talking to a patron in the lobby of the theater or on Twitter, if all I'm giving them is a marketing message, it's going to be a short conversation."
Diane Kline, director of marketing for the Regional Arts Commission, said the arts groups on Twitter that make the best use of the service follow that rule: create a dialogue, don't bombard people with information. Kline oversees Arts Tweets St. Louis, a page posted on the commission's website since May ;that aggregates the tweets of arts groups across St. Louis. The Regional Arts Commission is also on Twitter, and Kline said the organization has rented out its building because of tweets mentioning the offer.
Graham is quick to recite what he considers a recent Twitter success story. Last season he was reading a user's message about going to a Rep performance and noticed that the person wanted to meet another person in the lobby. Problem was, the time suggested was after the show was set to start. The Twitter user had the wrong show time, and Graham wrote the person to correct the mistake.
Graham said neither he nor anyone he knows has come up with a specific metric to measure whether a group is having "success" on Twitter. When someone calls the box office saying she heard about the show on Twitter, the Rep takes note. Short of that, however, he said it's mostly about hearing anecdotal feedback and keeping engaged its 700 Twitter followers, the vast majority of whom are people in St. Louis (rather than companies or out-of-towners).
"I'm a believer in the network effect," Graham said. "If a small but loyal group of followers repeats and amplifies what you put out there, it can reach a much larger audience."
The Personal Promoter
Bill Chott, the St. Louis actor and comedian perhaps best known for his performance as a Special Olympics athlete in the movie The Ringer, is clear about his intentions on Twitter: He uses the service to promote his acting career and get the word out about his improv school in St. Louis.
Chott said he primarily uses Twitter as an outgoing mode of communication. He'll broadcast what he's doing, but doesn't often read the tweets of the people who follow him. "I'm not on there for information-gathering purposes," he said. "I'm there more to share what I'm up to."
His followers have three accounts to choose from. Chott uses one for personal messages, another for updates about his school, The Improv Trick, and yet another to send messages to his improv students about upcoming classes or cancellations. He also uses a program that allows status updates on Facebook to be posted on Twitter automatically.
Recently, he's begun to go to the encyclopedic movie site IMDB to confirm when films and TV shows he's in are released or airing and share the news with friends. "My goal is to market aspects of my career that fans and friends weren't aware of. They say, 'I didn't know you were in that movie.'"
Chott said he found Twitter's 140 character limit to be, well, limiting at first. That what before he found out about ways to shorten links.
Diane Gibbs has a new business that sells a text mobile marketing service to anyone or any company with a product to sell. She knows she needs to use Twitter to help get the word out. She's still figuring out her approach.
Gibbs has a personal Twitter account but has yet to create an account for her company, Ideas Mobile Marketing. She hasn't used her personal account to promote the company, and isn't sure yet whether that'll ever happen. She has starting thinking about the differences between tweeting purely for fun and doing so for the purpose of increasing business.
Gibbs said before she starts tweeting under a business name she wants to make sure she has a strategy on how often to post, what kind of messages to put out and whom to follow. Though she has plenty of questions to answer, she said she's sold on the idea of informal communication.
"It's a lot easier to post what you're doing instead of tooting your own horn," she said.