Vance Welch, owner of Abby Park restaurant in Milton, says “marketing has taken on a new face” and a social network site like Twitter can help a new business like his “build a base.”


 

When the newly opened Abby Park restaurant in Milton prepared to add lunch service this week, it announced the news on its Twitter page. The restaurant just opened this month and already has 149 people following its “tweets,” the 140-character messages that are the standard mode of communication on Twitter.

“Marketing has taken on a new face,” restaurant owner Vance Welch said. “We’re looking at Twitter as we build a base.”

Twitter hasn’t yet found a way to profit off of its addictive social media site, despite reaching more than 20 million users monthly. But a growing number of local businesses are finding a way to raise their profiles using Twitter’s free bully pulpit.

For the Greater Boston Running Company, Twitter is an opportunity to build an ongoing dialogue with customers and attract new ones.

Sam Pitts, manager of the company’s store at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, tweets several times a day. Some promote store products, but others link to news about the running community in Greater Boston or other topical items.

Giving a newsy flair to the site makes it more likely that people will visit, Pitts said. On Wednesday, he linked to a USA Today story about health risks associated with flip-flops. “Play it safe and pick up some new Reefs at the store :)” he added. Another post linked to a review of runners’ watches on the New York Times’ Gadgetwise blog.

“We try to post information that people are interested in,” said Pitts, who has 280 “followers,” Twitter parlance for those who elect to receive all tweets from a user. “We’ve actually had customers come in the store because of what we’ve been doing on there.”

To recruit followers, Pitts searches Twitter for people who are following other running sites in the Boston area. Often, they reciprocate and begin following the store’s site.

“We get direct access to a customer base in terms of getting our product out there, and we get to see what people are talking about,” Pitts said.

Perhaps no sector of the retail industry in the Boston area is taking advantage of Twitter more than restaurants.

Anny Deirmenjian, an account manager for Image Unlimited Communications in Winchester, tweets on behalf of clients such as Burtons Grill in Hingham.

“People feel a real connection with social media, Deirmenjian said. “They have a part in it and we try to do updates via Twitter every day if we can.”

Promoting celebrity sightings – either in advance or after the fact – is a popular strategy in the restaurant industry.

Abby Park recently tweeted that New England Cable News’ “TV Diner” would be filming an upcoming episode at the 160-seat restaurant.

After a newspaper gossip column reported that New Kids on the Block singer Jordan Knight was spotted dining at Burton’s, Deirmenjian posted a link to the story.

“It’s a good response because the people can follow what’s going on at the restaurant,” she said. “Maybe next time we’ll do it as it’s happening.”

Followers of Abby Park on Twitter can expect nearly daily updates, mainly on dinner specials.

The Twitter page augments Abby Park’s regular Web site, which invited visitors to sign up to receive e-mail alerts. More than 2,000 people registered before the restaurant opened, Welch said.

But Twitter users tend to check their accounts more frequently, Welch said, giving it an advantage over Facebook.

Twitter also is serving as a new outlet for help-wanted ads. The Kings entertainment complex that is opening a new location at Legacy Place in Dedham next month announced a job fair on its Twitter page this week.

“We plan on ramping up our Twitter presence as we get closer to launch as we see it to be an important marketing tool that will allow us to connect with the community and those interested in our brand,” said Josh Rossmeisl, Kings’ general manager, in an e-mail.

A recent example of the power of social media took place on Tuesday when Burtons Grill in Virginia Beach, Va., launched a two-for-one promotion using Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to contact 1,500 diners. Reservations began streaming in within minutes, and the restaurant’s sales tripled that of the average night.

“We were blown away by what happened and how powerful this new medium is when used correctly,” said Kevin Rowell, owner of Burtons.

Steve Adams may be reached at sadams@ledger.com.