OK, I admit it. I was wrong. Big time, as Dick Cheney likes to say.

About what, you ask?

Twitter blends networking with information gathering
Fred Wilkinson
Managing Editor

Twitter â€” you know, the Web site where users post messages of 140 characters or less to share with, well, anyone who cares to follow their information feed.

It has been referred to as microblogging, but it is really more of a customized news, information and mass communication feed.

If you think it’s all teenage pop tarts messaging “duuuuuude, I’m so wasted at the mall” or spooky shut-ins spewing their fringe worldviews to a blissfully uninterested public, you’re as wrong as I was.

As a colleague of mine said recently, if you’re not finding value in Twitter, you’re not following the right people.

I couldn’t agree more.

What is this critter, Twitter?

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, I was a scoffer.

 â€œTwitter? Yeah, whatever.”

Maybe it was the name “Twitter” that threw me. It does sound a bit whimsical and frivolous.

Or maybe because my (limited) forays onto social networking sites (particularly Facebook) seemed more like a virtual online high-school reunion (not that there’s anything wrong with that) than a practical application for finding and relaying news and information of value to a professional audience.

But apparently even Internet search king Google has taken notice of the Twitter phenomenon.

In a recent story in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, Google co-founder Larry Page admitted the search engine had been losing out to Twitter as users increasingly demand real-time information online.

While Google can take hours or longer to update, Twitter postings and links are instantaneous.

The article states Twitter is now the third most visited social networking site in the U.S. after just three years in existence.

But the perception persists in many quarters that the site is a fun diversion and not a potentially impactful communication and information gathering tool.

For example, a mere 2% of consumers who use social network media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) report using the sites for guidance on grocery purchase decision-making, according to a Supermarket News report.

It continues on to say that users experience social media as a way — no big surprise here — to make personal connections and urges marketers to embrace that powerful function.

Advertising Age cites the case of New Orleans restaurant Naked Pizza, which staged an exclusive to Twitter promotion in April that brought in 15% of a day’s business.

The pizzeria’s owner is quoted saying he spends up to $60,000 a year on direct mail promotion but only $2,500 on e-mail marketing services, adding that he hopes to enlist 5,000 followers on the Naked Pizza Twitter feed and “that’s 5,000 people I don’t have to mail a postcard to.”

News you can use

There are more and more produce industry-specific people or groups on Twitter (United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce for Better Health Foundation among others).

Start an account. It’s quick, easy and free. You can follow The Packer at http://twitter.com/thepacker. Follow us, and then see who we’re following.

We have already found value in news leads from our Twitter feeds, which consist of produce industry groups, marketers, retailers, foodservice chains, food media professionals, and private and governmental agricultural groups.

Particularly useful are recall alerts from the Food and Drug Administration (http://twitter.com/FDArecalls) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://twitter.com/CDCemergency).

We post updates (tweets, as they are called) throughout the day and link to related news on www.thepacker.com. Stay connected to the news as it happens as The Packer and our followers post links to relevant industry news throughout the day.
 
A big part of the value and uniqueness of Twitter is that not only can you choose which organizations/individuals you want to follow, but you can contact them directly through short messages as well.

It’s a like a customized news service crossed with a chat room.

So follow The Packer on Twitter for the latest news and information relevant to your business, whether it’s something as serious as updates on a food safety event as it happens or something as fun as a tweet about the short line to meet Barbara Eden at a Fresh Summit expo floor booth.