For some time I have wondered why so many people in the food world are fascinated by Twitter. Chefs have been using Twitter regularly for a couple of years now and in some cases gained national attention for their tweets. Their posts are harmless anecdotes in some cases and in others can be quite harmful. New York Times food writer Julia Moskin captured in a February 2010 article examples of how chefs are behaving badly through the use of Twitter. Twitter appears to be some sort of digital megaphone that people are using in a knee jerk way. I don’t get it.
However, I do know that Twitter has proven to be a useful way to connect buyers and sellers. The popular press has reported via several high profile stories, about the multitude of food trucks using Twitter as a serious marketing tool. Celebrity chefs and popular restaurants have caught on as well and now you can follow your favorite on Twitter. Twitter appears to be a serious marketing tool.
After reading Moskin’s story I signed up for an account and searched out a chef that I would enjoy following. Chef Chris Cosentino (@OffalChris) fit the bill. Chris was one of my students back in the 1990’s and was mentioned in Moskin’s story. With a new Twitter account of my own (@satedepicure) and some time exploring the Twitter environment, my understanding of Twitter was starting to clarify.
Final clarity was found when I met Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chairman of Twitter. Jack presented a one hour session to a group of us about his background, the founding of Twitter, and where Twitter is headed strategically. Jack, like many an internet prodigy, is a wonderfully articulate guy who exudes a high degree of authenticity and intellect.
He’s clean cut, casual, and travels the planet with an iphone and a days worth of razor stubble on his chin. Dorsey created Twitter out of pure curiosity as a utility to help people communicate in singular or broadcast form in as simple a way as possible. As a result, he liberated digital communication by creating a system that allows anyone to communicate or “tweet” to the entire planet in 140 characters or less using a cheap mobile phone with text messaging capability. Dorsey repeatedly mentioned three characteristics that make Twitter unique. He stated that Twitter provides users immediacy, transparency, and simplicity when it comes to communication. These three factors are catalysts that enable greater human interaction. Think of the tweets as triggers for increased human interaction and feelings of connectivity. I finally get it.
Twitter provides chefs and restaurateurs with an inexpensive tool for connecting on a regular basis with their customers and for broadcasting brief real time messages to their broader constituents. Due to Twitter’s architecture, these constituents can respond to such a post providing additional perspective and transparency. In effect these additional posts pull the truth out of a message (in theory). The whole process is extremely simple and, in the best cases, trigger human interaction. In the worst cases, Twitter is a tool that can enable some chefs to be reckless in a very public way. Like any tool in the kitchen, Twitter can be beneficial of detrimental; it all depends on how you use it.