October is the third annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."
More Milwaukee restaurants are getting on board with Twitter. Of local eateries that tweet, few have been as creative in building their brands as AJ Bombers and Street-za pizza.
AJ Bombers has 900 Twitter followers, while Street-za pizza, a pizza truck vendor, has more than double that number with 2,371 followers.
"Our business at AJ Bombers would not be what it is today without Twitter," says Joe Sorge, who has operated his restaurant and bar at 1246 N. Water St. for six months.
While there's no official data on the number of Milwaukee-area restaurants on Twitter, of 84 restaurants listed on MilwaukeeScoop.com, a Web site that tracks top city attractions, 24 have Twitter accounts.
For many restaurants with limited marketing dollars, the micro-blogging site is a cheap way to advertise, especially in a tough economy. Restaurants have been particularly hard hit by the recession and must find low-cost ways to connect with customers. Twitter provides a quick and easy way for them to do that.
Nevertheless, many restaurants use Twitter primarily to push coupons and to promote menu specials as observed by their tweets. They could learn a lot from @ajbombers and @streetzapizza about how to use Twitter to build your brand without over selling.
"You're hearing our voice come through. What makes our campaigns successful is we have very fun conversations with Twitter users and every tweet isn't about our business," says Sorge, who bills his restaurant on Twitter as Milwaukee's best new burger joint. "We're always doing fun things."
To give you an example, Sorge recently introduced an '80s Friday promotion to his Twitter followers, where customers receive a free sandwich if they participate in the '80s challenge that calls for people to bring in such items as a 1980s Atari game or an '80s concert T-shirt.
"By bringing those articles with them to the restaurant, we know they're following us on Twitter," said Sorge, who operates AJ Bombers and two other restaurants in the Historic Third Ward -- Swig and Water Buffalo -- with his wife, Angie. The couple also own Sullivan's on Water Street.
Scott Baitinger, co-owner of Street-za pizza, uses Twitter to raise awareness about the pizza cart business, to monitor the food preferences of top Twitter users and to give frequent updates of his pizza truck's location around town.
Baitinger, who also is an ad designer and part-time instructor at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, also consults his Twitter followers for advice on new products. As a result of such Twitter discussions, he developed a gluten-free pizza that has become quite popular with his followers.
"People are like what about this? Because we're so unique and small, we can experiment with things," said Baitinger, who also has created Twitterspam pizza, playing off the recent Twitter spam attacks.
Twitter provides a forum for collaboration that can be beneficial for restaurants. For instance, Sorge and Baitinger frequently tweet about each other's products and events and have collaborated on special promotions at their restaurants, which helps draw Milwaukee Twitterers. In addition, they have partnered with @blatzliquor, whose owner Joe Woefle, regularly does guest bartending for promotional events at the restaurants.
It all proves what you can do with 140 characters. The key is to "be authentic," says Sorge, of AJ Bombers. "You have to be yourself," he says.
That said, what's your favorite restaurant on Twitter?
Tannette Johnson-Elie is an independent writer with diverse experience and skills in new media, particularly online social networking. The former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist is an avid user of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and has been recognized nationally among journalists building their brands on Twitter.
Her dedication to increasing public awareness and understanding of small businesses and business enterprises in communities of color earned her numerous awards and accolades. In 2004, she won first place in the business writing category of the National Association of Black Journalists “Salute to Excellence."
Johnson-Elie is a graduate of Bradley University. She and her husband, Jean R. Elie Jr., a Chicago bank executive, have two sons ages 12 and 16.
When she's not writing or tweeting, Tannette enjoys spending time with her family, walking, biking, and attending live theater.