On the morning of Friday January 7th, I was reading the local news on our local daily newspaper, The Burlington Free Press’s website*. As I clicked through the happenings around Vermont, I came across an article titled 11 Places to Eat Breakfast in 2011, and as a man who likes his breakfast, I clicked the link and began to read. As I scrolled down the page I realized that my favorite breakfast place Handy’s Lunch was not on the list and nor was another great neighborhood breakfast place called August First. Finding this totally unacceptable I got on Twitter and saw that Earl, the third generation owner of Handy’s, had seen the article 2 hours earlier and had asked the Free Press why he had been snubbed. I was glad to see that he had called them out, but there had not been much followup, most likely because not to many people are on twitter at 7 am when Earl had posted it up.

Before I go any further, let me tell you a little bit about Earl and Handy’s lunch. Handy’s is an old style U shaped lunch counter; you sit down and everyone talks to each other and discusses the days events. It is a truly wonderful place. What makes it what it is is Earl. Earl knows the majority of the people who come into the diner by name, some people don’t even have to order, he just knows what they want before they sit down. It is the kind of place that when I moved to the area, becoming a regular there was high on my list of priorities. After I had earned regular status at Handy’s, I heard Earl talking about how he was having a hard time attracting new customers, because while when the restaurant was started it was in a commercial area near the waterfront, now it was in a quiet residential neighborhood. I said to him, “Earl, every time I come in here, you are holding court and people are talking. This is the kind of place people want to be a part of, all you need to do is expand the lunch counter online. Get on Twitter!” That was all I had to do and he was away and running. At last count he had been featured in two articles on  Social Media for small business, had been voted by a Vermont-wide poll as the runner up for best Twitter Stream in Vermont and had 704 followers. He is a social media natural because he has the basic required equipment; he is social.

Now that you have a little background info, let me tell you what happened on Friday.

Just after I saw the article, I tweeted

“hey @bfp_news ever heard of @handyslunch?A glaring omission in your 11 places to eat bfast in #vt in ’11 http://bit.ly/hbV0nv.”

This lit the match and for the next two hours through the #btv conversation, the Burlington community railed against the Free Press’s article on Handy’s and August First’s behalf. People called for boycotting of the restaurants featured in the article, the paper and all sorts of other things. In the middle of all this Victor O. Castro aka @vcastro Tweeted.

“@bfp_news not a good idea to snub the places that have the highest #twitter #s in #btv @handyslunch @augustfirst.”

It was a very good point if you combine the number of people who follow both restaurants on Twitter the number is a shade over 1,800.  That is a lot of people in a small city of 40,000. August First and Handy’s got involved in the #btv conversation thanking their supporters and telling the paper to listen to the people. In total about 50 Tweets flew around town on the subject and then at 11:40, a short 4 hours and 40 minutes after the first Tweet on the subject went out, the paper apologized to Handy’s saying

“@bfp_news @handyslunch We fall on our fork and beg forgiveness from you and your Tweeps! #pleaseputawayyourpitchforks”

This event is a perfect example of the power of social media for small business. The proprietors had built up a following online and were paying attention to local media. They were then able to mobilize their fans to react to being left out of an article in which they clearly should have been included. After the apology, what shook out of the whole experience is that Handy’s and August First gained 51 followers and they organized a tweetup event at August First to show their support. (They would have done one at Handy’s as well but there was already one scheduled for the next week.)

The moral of the story is that new media information is a two way street and news is dialog.  If something happens that you don’t agree with, use the social capital that you have built up online and do something about it!

* Please note that while I did not agree with this article I fully support the Burlington Free Press and it is my first stop for local Vermont news.