Warning: if you don’t understand Twitter-speak, this article might be out of your range. I have included a handy “Twictionary” at the end. Feel free to use it if you get lost in translation.
While technically the World Wide Web has been around for quite some time, one could argue that the Internet Revolution took place a little more than a decade ago, when all of a sudden words like “url” and “hyperlink” became a part of the national consciousness. I recall noticing that every company started having web addresses on the bottom of their ads, commercials, etc. I remember slowly coming of age with the Internet while in college, revving up Internet Explorer like I was entering this amazing new universe: There was life outside of the four walls of my dorm room that did not involve class (not that I didn’t love going to class) or keg parties (not that I would ever attend one of those). I was enthralled.
And so were millions of other people. So many, in fact, that over the course of the next decade, many articles were written examining the use of the Internet and how it was helping to polarize society. With people spending more and more time in front of their computers (witness the exponential rise in online sales every holiday season, the fascination with blogging, the seemingly endless string of those stupid celebrity gossip sites… and come to think of it, this very page you’re reading right now…), they were no longer spending as much time interacting in real life. In fact, look at one of the 17 billion websites devoted to dating. People can create whatever image they want. Most of the time, they never even meet, preferring to leave the lasting impression of this brilliant, beautiful, amazing, greater-than-life persona than the truth.
With the sudden explosion of social networking sites, such as Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, things are starting to change. Instead of sitting at a computer, alone, people are now interacting with friends, family, former classmates and so forth, just in a different manner. After meeting via these sites, people are actually carrying over those friendships into real life. Beyond that, these friendships are often work-related. For entrepreneurs, websites such as Facebook and Twitter are changing the way they do business. Rather than need a real website, some small businesses are opting for a Facebook “fan” page. I, personally, sell t-shirts on the side and have had a better reaction to my Facebook exposure than what is posted on my actual site.
I noticed that a lot of small businesses in Harlem have started to embrace the concept. Take, for instance, Sergio Lilavois (@WeHarlem) and his brother Newton Lilavois (@HarlemMe), who I met via Twitter. Whenever I mentioned a Harlem-based business, they would retweet me. Eventually I learned that they have created their own Twitter-like site that is Harlem-specific, www.weharlem.com. The WeHarlem concept is actually uses Twitter as a conduit through which they send messages from their site. For instance, when I log into www.weharlem.com, and update my status, about 3-5 minutes later, my Twitter followers get the update as well. One could ask why there is a need for WeHarlem if Twitter is around, but as Sergio explained, “WeHarlem is about creating a community. I live in Harlem. I love Harlem. I hang out in Harlem. So, I am hoping that this site will help Harlemites know specifically what is going on in our community and want to get involved.” As we discussed the whole concept, we inadvertently came up with WeHarlem’s unofficial slogan, create the Harlem you want. I love that.
Jack Correia, owner of Harlem’s popular The DEN (@thedenharlem), understands this concept very well. “We closed The DEN in June and will re-open in a new location some time this fall. By having a presence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter and, especially WeHarlem, we are keeping The DEN’s name out in the public consciousness.” Correia recently sent out a tweet mentioning the new lunch menu they are working on and the next thing you know, he was getting inundated with suggestions for everything from Philly Cheesesteak Sliders to Arugula with poached salmon and a blood orange vinaigrette. “People love feeling that they are involved. It makes them want to come back. We are still a part of the fabric of the community even though we are not open right now,” Correia proclaims.
Another venue, Billie’s Black (@billiesblack), has been working with the whole trifecta of social networking sites, as well as WeHarlem for quite some time. A restaurant that also has a lot of live performances, they initially had a very strong presence on Myspace, where they played the music of the independent soul artists who graced their stage. They have since switched over to Facebook and have recently become Twitter addicts. Says Adriane Ferguson, owner, “One day, kind of out of the blue, Myspace quit being as relevant. All of a sudden, everybody was on Facebook. So, we got a Facebook account. Now, Twitter is all the rage. It’s very interesting how they come and go.” But, Ferguson knows now that Twitter (and it’s WeHarlem counterpart) is a sound way of free advertising. “We can tweet that Ledisi is sipping on a Ta Ta Tini (one of their signature cocktails). Or that the indie singer that no one knows just started bringing the house down and they need to get over here!”
Specifically, she has seen an increase in their late-night crowd. On the weekends, Billie’s Black closes at 4 am, with a limited menu and drink specials. “Twitter/WeHarlem is so of-the-moment that we can send out messages that the $3.59 shot specials have started and within minutes, we have people coming through the door,” Ferguson says. “We actively seek out Twitter-uses whenever we see them in the restaurant so they can start following us. It’s working very well.”
Other businesses in Harlem that are playing the game – and reaping the rewards – include (might as well do the roll call like Twitterers would list their #followfriday friends): @PollenNation (florist), @HarlemLanes (bowling alley) @PerksLounge (lounge, well clearly), @h3tours (hip hop tours of Harlem), @AroundHarlem (news/events website), @QuiznosofHarlem (sandwich shop), @HarlemTours (I bet you can figure that one out by yourselves).
And while they are not small businesses, per se, Harlem has always been full of entertainers. Today’s singers are promoting their projects and/or upcoming shows via Twitter and Facebook. In just the month of August, Russell Taylor (@Rsoulstar) released Confessional, his second album, MiKA (@Mikasoul) released Confirmations, her debut collection and KimberlyNichole (@kimnicky) released her first project, The Yellow Brick Journey. All had a very strong presence online prior to the release, with Russell tweeting up until he got onstage at the album release party. KimberlyNichole is releasing a song a day on her website (www.kimberlynichole.com), and making the announcements throughout the day via Twitter. MiKA has had a slew of public appearances during the month and uses Facebook’s event application to allow her fans to keep up and know where to be at what time. All three agree that social networking has helped them achieve a certain level of success. Says KimberlyNichole, “Without the backing of a major label, I have been able to build a nice, solid fan base by proliferating the connections I make at shows, via the Internet. Facebook and Myspace allow me to showcase my music; Twitter lets me be me. They’ve been very helpful”
The Lilavois brothers seem to have figured out the most exciting use of social networking, by creating their own. “We’re working on Blackberry and iPhone apps as you write. Harlem is changing and WeHarlem is going to be a part of it,” Sergio says. Having altered Twitter’s popular “what are you doing?” to “what are you doing in Harlem?”, people are joining, people are talking and people are listening. Someone who seems to always be out in the streets of Harlem, soaking up the culture and the nightlife, Sergio goes on to say, “I love being at a venue and seeing people who follow me online come in because I said mentioned how hot it was in there that particular night. I feel like I am doing my part…” in creating the Harlem that [whoever] wants.
For the record, if you would like to follow @NorthStarNews or me, specifically (@josephrileyland), feel free to do so. We’re pretty interesting.
# - the hash mark represents a trending topic on Twitter. For instance, when True Blood (a popular show amongst Twitter fans) is on, it is one of the most-mentioned topics at the time.
tw… - Twitter users make up words. Accept that and you’re good to go.
@ - the @ symbol before a name creates a link as well as allows people to see who is talking about them. I remember very well when my friend C.J (@cjpopgirl) was learning how to send a message for the first time and called out the silliness of the @ symbol… “I’m saying I’m having drinks with at Joseph Riley Land? I’m sending my first tweet and people are going to think I’m stupid!” But that’s just how it is and people get used to it.
#followfriday – every Friday, Twitter users tell their followers about all of the people they, themselves, are following. This is meant to increase everyone’s network.
tweet – either the actual message sent or the physical state of sending said message.