I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about social networking this past year. Before I delve into that (the circularity of this post will become apparent), I want to mention defunk theatre. defunk theatre is a small production company located in a small space behind brother David’s awesome coffee shop Common Grounds, located at 4139 SE Hawthorne Blvd in SE PDX.

I found defunk theatre on the recommendation of David, after our conversation about seeking space for what is now called Oregon Saucier (more on Oregon Saucier later). Dave had instructed me to show up on Thursday evening and that one of the production company could show me the space – he thought they might be letting the lease go soon.

When I got there, I met a lovely young woman, Naomi, with bright blue eyes and pretty smile. In what seemed too short a conversation, Naomi and I discussed the space and she gave me a quick tour. Unfortunately, the space is not adequate for my needs and in any event, defunk theatre is extending the lease another year. Naomi gave me a postcard for their current production Cooler.

Later this evening I researched this production company. To their disadvantage, their website is ‘down’. I did a quick search on Facebook for them, and didn’t find them there either. [blogger note: the website is working – go check them out at www.defunktheatre.com]

Segue:

I’ve been thinking about the explosion of social networking in the past couple years. I currently follow about two dozen restaurants on Facebook (mostly in Boston and NYC) and have watched them develop very effective communications – mostly daily. Here they are, including my favorite other food-relateds:

  • Share Our Strength (http://www.strength.org/)
  • Tremont SixFourSeven
  • Sel de la Terre
  • Food Network
  • Chef’s Collaborative
  • James Beard Foundation
  • Chez Melange
  • Rialto Restaurant
  • Chris Douglass
  • Radius Restaurant Group
  • Tavolo Ristorante
  • and many others! Including Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and NPR! If you wish to see all that I follow, just search for me on Facebook (Jeffrey Kingman or jkingman@chocoruagroup.com)

So here’s my thinking, especially that past few days..

The old ways of being in community with customers has changed dramatically.. no longer is society reacting to print, tv or radio ads for restaurants. The past five years have shown these methods don’t work. The development of Urban Spoon (http://www.urbanspoon/) and many successful food/restaurant related blogs have spearheaded societal use and addiction of internet technology in sharing great restaurants.

[Aside: Open Table, the online restaurant reservation network, did an IPO on the NYSE the week of May 18th, 2009, with stocks soaring 59% in the first day. Check out the story here http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124337829530056123.html]

It’s become the reality of that old restaurant adage – ‘word of mouth’ is best. But what is word of mouth in a digital and social network age?

So here’s the question I’ve been mulling the past six months. How do restaurateurs use the advent of social networking to work to their advantage? How do they do this with extremely limited time and usually limited expense accounts?

In Wolfeboro NH at the last restaurant I was Chef for, I played with using Facebook, Twitter and direct email as a marketing and social networking tool – without the support of the owner. There was some limited success to this – but I believe the success would have been much greater if the owner had been onboard.

I’ve been watching these organizations on Facebook effectively message almost every day. The messages intrigue me – not only as an entrepreneur, businessperson, chef and possible competitor. They intrigue me as a diner and gourmand.

So today, when I met the lovely Naomi and was introduced to defunk theater, and then couldn’t find their presence online, it led my thinking beyond the hospitality industry. How do other organizations begin to use social networking – efficiently and often – to reach their “tribes” and find new followers?

For defunkt theater and Common Grounds – I have a proposal: I’d be more than happy to work on this on your behalf in a pro-bono agreement! Consider it my personal experiment 🙂

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