September 2015

Social Media Savvy : For the sociably inclined restaurateur

Author: Kitty Bartell

For the astute restaurateur, a website is the home base where all their other social media-driven platforms converge. With web presence running a very narrow second only to great culinary reviews as the most powerful marketing tool in a restaurant’s cadre, having the ability to create a mood, convey ambiance, and ignite desire … all from a brief, glancing visit to their website, and following-up with the cultivation and nurturing of customers via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the opportunities for engagement become nearly endless. And it is widely known that engaged customers become loyal fans.

With a website at the epicenter of most big business marketing strategies, the financial and technological hurdles inherent in set-up alone tend to not be small business or local restaurant friendly. The average owner does not have the expertise, time, or manpower to remain competitive in the rapidly changing environment of web optimization.

Enter the requisite professional website designer. According to Internet Society, a leader in global Internet development and evolution, of all restaurants that have websites, their long-term management is spotty at best. Severely limited by time, talent, and money, small eatery owners face significant challenges effectively utilizing their sites to build relationships with customers. Alas, how many times have you gone to a restaurant’s website only to find out-of-date menus, or the most recent live entertainment lineup from last summer?

There is good news, however, for restaurant owners. Once the website is up and running, establishing an effective, creative, vibrant marketing strategy via social media is a relatively simple, do-it-yourself, inexpensive endeavor through the use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Of course, other social media outlets are available, with more to come as trends and choices change rapidly in this industry; however, hands-down these are the main players in today’s market, and the ones that have found the most marketing traction at this point in time.

Facebook is a powerful tool for restaurants and is one of the easiest and most effective ways to engage clients and generate traffic to your eatery, app, or web presence. The key is to earn trust, not just followers. A good starting point is to post recipes or cooking tips from your chef, or promote culinary news online to build your restaurant’s reputation for posting authoritative content. As with personal Facebooking, the accumulation of Friends (think fans) is the new-world status barometer, and establishing your restaurant and your staff as authorities in the industry will greatly increase your forecast.

Remember, Facebook is for fun. People go there to relax. The content you post on your restaurant page needs to amuse, entice, and hopefully entertain. Getting Likes are like high fives from your customers. Thank them, engage with them (preferably on other formats as well), and give them a reason to keep coming back, to both your Facebook page and your restaurant. Engage, engage, engage is the mantra of Facebook marketing. The simple formula for getting people excited about hearing from you and your establishment is to let them hear from you often—daily is best.

It may sound like a fulltime job keeping up with your business’s Facebook posts, especially if the pressure is on to make them charming and to generate quality Likes. Unless your business has a fulltime Internet guru on the payroll focusing all of his or her time and creativity on the business’s online presence (likely not), the following posting ideas will take precious little time and nearly write themselves:

• Make your customers, your staff, and your vendors, media stars. Publicize their accomplishments, their celebrations, their news and announcements. These gems could range from the winner of your Facebook competition guessing the delivery date of your sous chef’s new baby, to new menus, birthday wishes, promotions, new team member introductions… the sky is the limit. Asking the team to contribute copy, photographs, and ideas, makes the steps to posting that much easier.

• Ask questions. People love to give their opinion. And for that matter, they like to ask questions too; and they will. Which goes nicely with no. 3.

• Reply to customer questions, opinions, responses, and voting results. No matter how jammed your calendar may be, set aside a few minutes to respond daily to at least three or four customers. This is an excellent way to provide helpful resources (which may be excellent posting ideas in and of themselves), and hopefully solidify your expertise.

• Post something personal. Facebook is nothing if not personal, and most followers will love hearing about your latest finds at the local farmers market, or your introduction to a culinary icon after you won “best baklava” at the Greek festival. These will be fun to write, thus quick and easy.

• Offer discounts. Customers love them and will look for them… period.

• Change your Facebook cover photo often. A news feed is sent to your fans every time you do. Your customers will begin looking forward to photos of your latest delicious dishes or happy happenings.

Instagram is the modern version of window shopping, where strolling (or should I say scrolling) through beautiful images has the ability to bring your culinary imagination to life. Easily set-up by even social media novices, with its photo-driven content, Instagram is an excellent match with the restaurant industry where food photography has the potential to be enticing and to encourage fans to make reservations. Through the use of photography with little text, Instagram perfectly conveys the ambiance and aesthetic of your establishment, along with marketing the latest dishes added to the menu.

Several proven practices will result in building a vibrant and profitable following on Instagram, and like Facebook, may be executed without a great investment of time, talent, or money. Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist, analyzed photographs from half a million Instagram users and found some consistent features of posts that generate more engagement:

• Use more hashtags. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per photo, and more hashtags correlate with more engagement.
• Do not over-edit or add filters to your photos. No need to mess around with your photography if you want to hear from your customers. Stats indicate they like it raw.
• Use a call to action. Asking for a “Like” or a “Comment” dramatically increases the likelihood of that happening.
• Share “edgy” photos and photos with faces. Engagement increases when structures and edges appear in your photography. Also, photos with one or more faces got significantly more Likes.
• Keep photos bright and use the right colors. Studies have shown that photos with grays, blues, and greens (meaning less yellow, orange, and pink), and brightly lit photos generate the most engagement. The difference here was huge.

Instagram can be like thumbing through a wonderful gourmet magazine; one your customer get to design for themselves, where you have the opportunity to delight them on a daily basis with the best of what’s happening at your eatery.

Twitter is the social media light version of Facebook and Instagram, however, it is just as powerful a marketing tool for the savvy user—savvy meaning willing to try something a little more out-of-the-box than typing the standard 140-character mind dumps to which the typical users of this vehicle seem to gravitate.
Tweeting is a highly effective and measureable marketing tool, because it seeks and finds a target audience (your fans) immediately. Twitter is uniquely designed for the call to action. Impromptu specials or events may become huge engagement generators, and are perfectly suited to stirring up enthusiasm for new menu items or live entertainment events. Imagine event announcements tweeted just as the new liquor launches or the local brewer’s newly bottled beers are unveiled at your pub; all feeding on your followers’ desire to be in-the-know, and bringing them to your establishment virtually immediately. Businesses like the trendy food truck scene use Twitter to their advantage, announcing truck locations on a minute-to-minute basis, with foodie followers chasing all over town for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late night noshing. Entertainers have staged spur-of-the-moment concerts, bringing in scores of fans via one Twitter post. Local restaurants can deliver the news of limited specials, like two-for-one tacos from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. for one night only, and only for their Twitter followers.

Social media offers a unique opportunity to build on a website as a home base. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are go-to media strategies that can be easily launched and managed, and reap measureable and dynamic results. Engaged fans make for loyal customers, and nowhere are the opportunities more endless or affordable than via social media. 

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