Twitter continues to change the way people do business, and more importantly, how customers relate to businesses. We've already seen large corporations like Comcast use Twitter to monitor what their customers think of them, but small companies can also use it to great effect.I got friendly with New York restaurateur James Lenzi last winter while he supervised construction on Haakon's Hall, a Norwegian-themed eatery he named after his son (both of whom are named after one of Norway's largest remaining buildings from medieval times).
But there's nothing medieval about this Haakon's Hall, a few blocks from my apartment near Columbia University in New York. It's a great location during the school year, but it's not really hopping during the summer months, which is when James was finally able to open the doors to his new business.
He's managed to do pretty well despite the delays. Offering free WiFi is one reason, but probably the main reason Jim's been able to buck slow-moving city inspectors, the rough economy, and a protracted construction schedule is that he has his Web priorities in order. Haakon's Hall's Web site is down, but it does have a working Twitter account, thanks to which I learned something very important for a member of my family: Haakon's Hall features gluten-free items on its menu.
Months of talking to James and walking past his place and even eating there from time to time, but it took following Haakon's Hall on Twitter to learn that.
Someone else discovered that fact as well, and posted the information to the New York City Celiac Disease Meetup Group's discussion board. I'm not sure how many people who are allergic to gluten have eaten at Haakon's Hall, but those mentions sure can't hurt.
The odds of stumbling across Haakon's Hall by doing a Web search for restaurants with gluten-free food are pretty slim, but the viral nature of Twitter combined with Twitter search certainly makes it more likely that his place will be discovered.
What used to be called word of mouth is now turning into word of Tweet. Even with the advent of local top-level domains like .nyc, Twitter is emerging as a more efficient way for local businesses and customers to discover each other than the Web. The growth of the static Web drowns out individual sites, whereas the network effect on Twitter conversations will help, not hinder, the process of discovery.