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Many use 'tweets' to promote events, products

Although some commercial operations may be seeing slowed traffic in a bad economy, business is booming for Sam Poley.

Ever since the general manager of Durham Catering Company began using Twitter to promote his OnlyBurger food truck, OnlyBurger has experienced an increase in both popularity and sales, he said.

Since 2006, Twitter has enabled its users to communicate with one another through the exchange of "tweets"-short messages that can be up to 140 characters long. By following others and attracting followers, users receive updates on each other's current statuses. OnlyBurger's Twitter account currently has about 400 followers, and frequent updates let students know where the truck will be selling its trademark burgers.

"It's given us the opportunity to communicate in real time with people who are interested," Poley said. "It's to the point now where people wind up in a place waiting for a truck that isn't even there yet.... When we pull up there's already a queue of about 20 people there."

And Twitter is a growing phenomenon across the University as users are beginning to realize its full potential for communication.

Junior Mike Posner, a hip-hop artist who recently released a CD and will be performing on the Last Day of Classes, has more than 800 Twitter followers and uses the micro-blogging service to promote his music.

"It gives my existing fans a chance to connect with me more directly," he wrote in an e-mail.

Posner, however, said he believes that it may take some time before Twitter attains large-scale popularity among Duke students.

"I'm trying to convince [junior Jon] Scheyer to get on there and help break the ice," he said.

Although many Duke students do not have Twitter accounts, some University organizations have already started using the site to advertise events and spread information.

Meg McKee, Events@Duke program coordinator for the Office of News and Communications, uses Twitter to promote events on the Duke calendar.

"[There's] a new community we can market to," McKee said. "It's a great way to advertise all the events that are happening."

McKee said she heard about Twitter after attending a "Twitter Tutorial" run by Anton Zuiker, manager of internal communication for Duke Medicine.

"It's a very useful and efficient way to communicate with a network of people, and more and more individuals at Duke are using Twitter to share news and information with their networks of colleagues and friends," said Zuiker, who currently has 486 followers.

Twitter accounts also exist for Duke University Press, the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke Medicine and Duke Performances, among many others.

But even those without anything to promote said they still enjoy the Web site.

"It's a more simplified, minimalistic approach to social networking, rather than the cluttered atmosphere of Facebook or MySpace," said freshman Adam Orr, who has 11 followers. "It cuts to the chase and beautifully simplifies everything into short, pithy updates. In such a strenuous social environment, it's nice to see something that's simple."

Beyond the Gothic Wonderland, Twitter is becoming a larger trend. From February 2008 to February 2009, Twitter's membership grew 1,382 percent to just more than 7 million users, according to Nielsen.com.

"It's one of a whole host of online tools that people are using to communicate faster and faster and with more and more people," Zuiker said. "It's fast, efficient and short."

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