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How social media is making us better neighbours

Amber with Greg Hewitt and the @ambermac burger

Earlier this week I dropped into my local favourite burger shop to pick up lunch. While I was there, I noticed the large Twitter sign in the Great Burger Kitchen's (GBK) window, advertising their presence on the popular micro-messaging site. Naturally, being a social media fan and all, I snapped a pic of my "Voodoo" burger on my BlackBerry and fired it out into cyberspace.

Soon after, Greg Hewitt, who manages GBK's account tweeted me to ask if I'd like my own burger. My own burger? Well, of course, who wouldn't?

I sent him a message detailing my custom toppings, including avocado, tomatoes, and onions, and within 24 hours the @ambermac burger was born. On Thursday my creation was the burger of the day, so I popped in to try one out (delicious) and meet the man behind the creative idea. Greg says GBK plans to contact locals (and Toronto celebrities) on Twitter and let them dream up a personalized patty.

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This isn't the first time I've built a relationship with someone in my new east end GTA neighbourhood based on our digital chatter. In fact, every week I notice yet another small business owner taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and a number of other new media tools. Just down the street my local pub uses Twitter to broadcast meal specials and post photos. I've become friends with the owner of a nearby yoga studio based on her interesting online updates and humorous neighbourhood insights.

And it's not just local business owners latching on to the web. We also have a neighbourhood social network (built on the popular Ning platform) that is home to conversations about the area's best public parks and worst places to shop. Within this network there is even a listing of local Twitter users to follow (how very meta).

Recently, I noticed an officer from our district created a group on behalf of the Toronto Police to share policing issues and provide information to residents and businesses in our neighbourhood. His discussion forum is filled with conversations that include everything from rants about speeding on residential streets to concerns about drug use in many of our parks. The officer managing the group is efficient in his responses and always willing to help people in the community get answers.

While social media news headlines generally feature big businesses dreaming up big ideas to capture online attention (think Old Spice Guy), these same online tools are giving us the platforms we need to bring our physical communities closer together. Oh, and if you want to try the @ambermac burger, it's no longer available, but I hear @greatburger411 is taking new requests.

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