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Various trades and industries are using social media for marketing, creating brand awareness, reputation monitoring and consumer engagement. The restaurant industry is no different. By definition restaurants are very social offline, but what about online? This got me thinking about how restaurants can utilize social media platforms for marketing, brand monitoring and beyond. In talking with a potential client, who is a major player in the restaurant industry, I outlined the following initiatives and talked about how they can and should be using social media.
Chances are that if you are a restaurant, especially a well known, recognized one, people are talking about you online. Make no mistake that there is chatter happening. The question is what type of chatter is it? Good, bad or in between, and how do you plan on dealing with it?
Note: Although this post is about how restaurants can use social media, the tactics and strategies I outline can be used for any industry.
Look and listen first: who is talking about you and what is being said?
Talk is happening everywhere, forums, blogs, comments, review sites, Twitter and so forth. Starting with the basics, Google Alerts should be setup to track any keyword/brand mentions.
The next step is monitoring Twitter. Twitter is the real time watering hole for all types of chatter. It is often the first place that a rant or rave will be mentioned, and from there it can quickly go viral in no time. Once something starts to spread on Twitter, it's often hard to do the right damage control. It's imperative that Twitter is monitored heavily and should be priority number one for brand monitoring.
Automation is key, let the tools do the work. Set it and forget it.
Search Twitter for your brand's relevant keywords and set up RSS feeds to track them in Google Reader. You should also utilize Tweet Beep, a free service that will automatically email you hourly updates when a specific keyword or URL is mentioned on Twitter. This is a tool I heavily rely on for brand monitoring, it works extremely well and allows me to bypass going to Twitter's website to search.
Conversations are everywhere, that's where BackType fits into the mix. BackType is a free service that indexes millions of conversations from blogs, social networks and other social media platforms. You can search the BackType website or set up email alerts, it's not real time but it's close enough.
These are at the very least the minimum amount of tools you should be using. There are plenty of other tools out there, but they all pretty much do the same thing. My personal preference is using Google Reader or NetVibes as my social media dashboard. The other route is paying for a reputation monitoring service. One that I use and highly recommended isFiltrbox.com. The service monitors a wide scope of the social media sphere, and sends me daily email reports with mentions of the brands that I'm tracking. They are reasonably priced compared to their competitors as well.
Additional platforms and services to be monitoring:
The services I mentioned above cover most of the social media landscape, but not everything. It's also a good idea from time to time to scan the services mentioned below. The last three on the list monitor pretty much the same social media platforms. They are popular, their user interfaces are different, and they are definitely worth a notable mention.
Now that you have looked and listened, it's time to learn:
So what about all this Twitter chatter?
People who are talking about you on Twitter or any social media network are mainly two things, existing customers or potential customers. Follow back everyone who talks about your brand in a positive manner. After all, these are brand evangelists, it's word of mouth marketing, and it's not costing you a dime. Reciprocation shows that you as a brand have taken interest in your customer. Be responsive to this and when applicable engage them in a conversation, or at the very least send them a quick thank you note. You should also identify and develop relationships with your loyal brand endorsers because these people are essentially an extension of your online marketing dept. In addition to engaging these people, reward them with a gift card to your restaurant. Tokens of appreciation go far and are always remembered. If you think they are talking now, just wait until that gift card arrives in the mail. The positive stuff is pretty much a no brainer, but always remember social media is all about the conversations, unfiltered at that. Responding to negative chatter is equally important as well, use these social media tools wisely to handle crisis situations, and avoid a PR nightmare. In the online environment, word spreads at an alarming high frequency, and once it does, there will be very little that you can do no matter how much you try to correct the situation.
Twitter for the most part is a customer service tool as I outlined in the previous paragraph, but it can also be used for marketing.
Brand your restaurant's menu and marketing material with your Twitter account url. Take it a step further and have your Twitter url printed on customer receipts. If you are a QSR (Quick service restaurant) brand your social profiles at your POP (Point of Purchase).
Start a company blog:
A blog can be used for the same things as Twitter, only in much greater detail. Twitter has limitations where as a blog has none. Pictures and videos are just two examples. Use your restaurant blog to showcase customer testimonials, pictures from a specific event, menu items, food & drink recipes, employee bios and over all anything and everything that relates to your restaurant. The possibilities are endless on what you can use your blog for. A suggestion I give to clients in the industry is to start a weekly "Ask the expert" series on your blog. If my restaurant was a Sushi restaurant, I would encourage my customers to ask a Sushi related question and let our star Sushi chef answer them on the blog. The other purpose of a company blog is to generate new content, content that will get indexed in search engines and give potential new customers a way to find you on the web. Every blog post is a gateway into your website, so be sure to optimize your content with the correct keyword branding, post titles, tags and so on. Encourage your patrons to subscribe to your RSS feed and to share your blog's content. Install ShareThisso that your patrons have an easy way of distributing your blog content.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!
Chances are your restaurant is already on review sites like Urbanspoon andYelp. If it's not, be sure to encourage your customers to post a fair review. Ask your brand endorsers on Twitter to leave a review, as well as customers in your restaurant. Remember nowadays everyone is a food critic. These online review sites are a big source of customer information and they are global reaching. There will be negative reviews, not everyone can be pleased, no matter the caliber of service you provide. If there is a negative review left, try to reach out to that customer and correct the situation if possible. The goal with a negative review or reviews is to get them buried on page 10. The only thing you can do for this is to provide good service atmosphere and food in the hopes of getting good reviews in front of it. Your brand endorsers will always leave a great review, encourage all of them to visit these sites and post a review as often as possible.
Food is visual, visual, visual!
Your restaurant should have a YouTube channel and photo sharing channel, ideally on a site like Flickr. These social media platforms have two important things, search, and passionate communities. You can use video to showcase restaurant events, provide a visual of your existing menu or new menu items. Do a biweekly show on some of the menu items you serve in the restaurant. Showcase your kitchen talent and break open the kitchen doors. The possibilities are endless, use your imagination. These videos can be embedded on your blog and shared throughout the social media landscape. The same goes for photos. Take pictures of your guests, let them share their experiences with images on your blog. Take pictures of your menu items, signature drinks, kitchen staff, and everything that represents your restaurant.
Embrace and prepare for mobile, it's here and it's not going anywhere:
With the advent of the iPhone and the mobile digital revolution, it's essential that you pay attention to this. Starting with your website, make sure its optimized for mobile devices. We talked about review sites earlier, well guess what, they have iPhone applications, and they are very popular at that. That's why it's essential that your restaurant be on these sites. The bigger picture depending on the type of restaurant you operate would be to develop an iPhone application, one where people can easily view your menu options, contact information, and more specifically to place orders. Just look at how much success Pizza Hut is having with their newly released iPhone application, with over 100,000 downloads in the first month. The bottom line is embrace mobile every which way possible.
Get as much data as possible from your customers:
Online this mainly refers to email addresses. Your website should be collecting people's email addresses. Encourage your existing customers and potential customers to sign up to be notified about any upcoming events at the restaurant. Send out a monthly newsletter informing customers about what's happening at the restaurant, new menu items, special events, new store openings and so forth. Reward people for subscribing to the newsletter with a gift card or free glass of wine when they come in. Include quality information in your newsletter such as the recipe ingredients of an upcoming or existing menu item, maybe accompany that with a link to an online video or photographs of the dish. I have only touched upon the surface here, but I'm sure you get the picture by now.
I could go on and on with this post but I will stop here. Restaurants have an advantage over a lot of other industries that use social media. Why you may ask? Social media is about story telling and visuals. Food is very visual, both physically and emotionally. Food evokes conversations, experiences, memories, and stories that people share. This is what social media is all about.
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