What are you doing Traverse CIty? Twitter connections link community members

TRAVERSE CITY – To Tweet or not to Tweet? That's the question Traverse City area business owners and organizations are asking themselves as believers and experimenters flock to take test flights on Twitter, the free online social networking service, while others perch on the fence.

"There's nobody out there who couldn't benefit," said Michelle Corteggiano, co-founder of and social media integration specialist with ATI Attraction Marketing of Traverse City. "It's for everyone."

Anyone with Internet access and a computer, mobile phone or hand-held device can join Twitter and begin sending messages (tweets) that answer one question: What are you doing?

A major benefit of the service for institutions and organizations is the ability to quickly send a message of up to 140 characters for free.

The public relations team at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) sees Twitter "as yet another vehicle to get out the NMC brand" and has been experimenting with the service since April. A couple of tweets per week are sent from its NMCFree Twitter account. The majority of tweets are announcements of free campus events, but some publicize free activities off campus, such as a student photo exhibition at Serenity Tea Bar, a staff librarian's presentation at the Heritage Center, movies for students at the State Theatre, and public viewings at Rogers Observatory. Three other NMC entities use Twitter: Student Life, Extended Education and the Writing Center.

"We wanted to keep NMCFree in the spirit of Twitter, which is shared and free and people can follow," said Paul Heaton, director of Public Relations. "There's room for trying out new and different things."

Some of NMC's followers (those receiving NMC tweets) include the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way, National Cherry Festival, OneUpWeb, P.R. and marketing agencies, media, TV personalities, and individuals. NMC follows them, too.

Alison Arnold, director of Grants and Communications for Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), said her organization went live three months ago and has been "kind of discovering" as it goes. TCAPS' goal is to send one tweet per day that shares vibrant information about important things it thinks the community needs to know. Among messages sent so far are reminders of school board meetings and summer program opportunities (day camp for elementary-age students, for example), and announcements of music concerts and free events throughout the system of 13 elementary and five secondary schools.

"I think it's a dynamic way we can rapidly get information out," she said, sharing that a number of students are using the service, too. "We have to do this thoughtfully. There's lots of informal, less professional tweeting. We want to keep ours professional."

At the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President Laura Oblinger said the organization couldn't ignore what its member experts were saying and the results of its own research – that Facebook and Twitter are "the right place" for the chamber.

"I think that these two media offer a way for our fans and followers to peek in the windows of our chamber and know what's going on," Oblinger said.

The chamber has made everyone in the organization – members, volunteers and staff – aware of its presence on Twitter, and one point person receives news and builds content around the most "relevant and timely" tidbits. Tweets include notifications of events, quick reminders, and "live" news.

The downside of social media networking for Salon Verve's Front Desk Coordinator MacKenzee Bull is the time it takes her to update 12 websites she uses to spread the word about the business. The upside is that she's continually finding more places to blog and other green businesses to follow on Twitter – and all of them are free.

"There's a lot of education that goes along with being an organic salon," Bull said. "The way we use Twitter is sort of as an ingredients' watch list, letting people know, for instance, if sodium laurel sulfate is listed as an ingredient in a product."

She uses Twitter and Facebook every day to share news about specials, such as a recent 15-minute free massage, or announcements of recognition, as when they received first place in the hair salon category of TV 7&4's A-list.

"No one looks up anything in the phone book anymore," she explained. "If you're a business, you'd better be online and using some of this free advertising."