Hundreds of people across Northamptonshire are getting to know each other better and starting to do business thanks to the social network Twitter.
Businesses, charities and individuals have been getting together for #northantshour on Thursday nights for more than a month, and the initiative has proved to be a great success.
The hour-long sessions from 8pm every Thursday have grown into a vibrant way of companies talking to each other and promoting their services.
It has also enabled charities to promote their activities and organisations such as Northamptonshire Police to promote what they do.
Many companies are offering anyone who takes part in #northantshour deals.
Both the Northamptonshire Telegraph and the Northampton Chronicle and Echo have offered new customers who take part in the initiative 20 per cent off their advertising in print or on the web.
The initiative has been such a success that the number of people taking part meant #northantshour was among the top 10 most used hashtags in the country for a short time last week.
Josie Bishton, the business manager of Bromford Support, a charity which works with vulnerable people in the county, is an avid user of #northantshour.
She said: “I stumbled across it the first week purely by accident. It’s a great place for the charity to raise its profile in the community and promote its services with no cost involved.
“The last two weeks #northantshour has been trending nationally on Twitter.”
Others who have been taking part include Orange Juice PR, 78 Derngate and Caroline Dancer of Pick a Lily florists in Wellingborough Road, Northampton.
Caroline said: “We use Twitter every day for business purposes. The first couple of weeks #northantshour was quite quiet but now it’s absolutely rammed and it takes time to catch up with it all.
“It’s a great way for us to network with other local businesses in the wedding industry such as photograhers, cake decorators and car hire companies.
“We’ve made some good connections and firms link to our website and we link to theirs, and we point brides and grooms each others’ way.
“It’s a great way for local businessses to support each other.”
The idea came from BBC Radio Northampton presenter Willy Gilder.
He said: “I noticed that Jim Hawkins, who once worked at BBC Radio Northampton, and is now with Radio Shropshire, often had #shropshirehour on his tweets – he explained that this was all about businesses, individuals and organisations networking together.
“I wondered whether the idea might work locally, so rather arbitrarily picked 8pm on Thursday – on the basis that I was free at that time.
“I then asked for my followers to re-tweet the idea.
“The first week saw a slow start, but over an hour it picked up speed – and you could see people meeting each other and mixing together, which was great.
“The week before last #northantshour was trending nationally, which is amazing.
“It’s been wonderful seeing different folk learn more from each other about what’s going on in the county.
“I feel I have made friends and contacts through #northantshour.
“Put simply, that’s what it’s all about.”