Dan Barash Online

Social-Media Marketing for Restaurants: 10 Tips
June 8, 2009, 6:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just signing up for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube isn’t enough to gain traction with guests. Here’s what to do next.

Allison Perlik, Senior Editor — Restaurants and Institutions, 6/5/2009 11:03:00 AM

Participation in social media demands more active planning than simply signing up for an account and then posting the details of today’s lunch specials or next month’s wine dinner. As with any branding initiative, it’s best to start with a thorough understanding of the strategy’s opportunities and potential pitfalls. To that end, R&I rounded up a team of experts to offer operators the following user’s guide to social media.

1. Create a plan before jumping in.

First, know your audience, says L. Michelle Smith, president and CEO of Dallas-based media-strategy firm M Strategies Inc., whose clients include Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken. Are your customers on social networks, and if so, which ones? Next, know what you want to accomplish: Is your goal to build a relationship through dialogue with an audience? To tell people about the brand, or about news and events? “It’s not a strategy just to be there,” Smith says.

2. “Listen” to what’s being said about your brand.

Search social-media sites and read what already has been posted—not just in reviews but in comments and conversations. “You’ll learn a phenomenal amount,” says Van Vandegrift, president and emerging-media consultant with Matrixx Pictures, a Santa Monica, Calif., production company whose clients include Austin, Texas-based Schlotzsky’s Deli. “They’ll say all the things they love and all the things they hate, and that’s incredible business knowledge. And then you’ll know who they are, so you can reach out to them.” Also make it a priority to monitor the conversation regularly. Some social-media sites, such as Twitter, let users set up RSS feeds around search terms. Tweetlater.com, a Twitter companion, tracks keywords and then e-mails users a digest of tweets that contain those terms. Other options include blog-searching sites such as Technorati, and Google Alerts, which sends e-mail updates every time a search term is mentioned on a blog or another Web site.

Dunkin’ Donuts recently conducted a customer forum on Facebook.Church’s Chicken used YouTube to promote its modular store.

3. Figure out your brand’s voice.

Decide whether you want to speak to consumers in your personal voice (i.e., as the owner, chef or general manager), or as the overall brand, says Christina Wong, restaurant and chef publicist at JS² Communications in Los Angeles. At Culver City, Calif.-based chain Tender Greens, for example, five chefs contribute Twitter posts under the brand’s umbrella, while Graham Elliot Bowles, chef-owner of Graham Elliot in Chicago, shares more-personalized thoughts in the first person.

4. Put time to the task.

Assign someone—whether an in-house employee or an outside consultant—the task of developing and managing social-media strategies. “When social media first came out, it was OK to put an intern on it,” says Crosby Noricks, a social-media strategist with Red Door Interactive in San Diego. “But you get the best results with a strong strategic plan, and that requires creative assets and the hours to monitor, communicate and engage.” And make sure to tie together all Web 2.0 efforts, so that your company’s Web site, microsites and e-newsletters refer back to Twitter, Facebook and any other networks where you have a presence.

Google Alerts (above), which sends updates when designated search terms are mentioned online, and blog-searching sites such as Technorati (top) are valuable for tracking your brand.

5. Create brand ambassadors.

Find out (through searches, conversations, Facebook fan pages, etc.) who is passionate about your brand, and pass on pertinent material they can share with others. “Give them the right information to talk about, and incentivize them by telling them about new products [and other news] first,” Vandegrift says. “You don’t have to pay people. Just find out who really cares about you and give them some access.”

6. Do more than send out promotional messages.

“There is a dance between how promotional you are and how much you’re actually communicating,” says Noricks. Create conversations and communities by sharing outside links to relevant information; responding directly to comments and questions; and on Twitter, “retweeting” (re-posting) interesting entries. Engage others by asking questions and soliciting feedback. And be helpful wherever possible, even in areas not related directly to your brand, Wong says. If someone is looking for ideas for using fresh blackberries, for instance, respond if you have something worthwhile to contribute.

7. Be visual.

Share food, restaurant and event photos as well as chef interviews, cooking demonstrations and live video feeds from the kitchen or dining room. “Video is unique,” Noricks says. “There’s nothing like getting that insider view.”

8. Look to popular innovators for high-impact ideas.

For generating buzz and creating a following, Smith points to two examples: the wildly popular “Will It Blend?” YouTube video series (which garners millions of views for the blender manufacturer by showing how its product can blend virtually anything) and mystarbucksidea.com, where the Seattle-based company asks users for suggestions on everything from new products to packaging. Be sure to get out the word about such efforts by telling others—bloggers, local newspapers and other media—what you’re doing.

9. Pick your battles when it comes to responding to negativity.

First, determine how inflammatory the issue is and whether comments are likely to spread far, Smith advises. “If something has the potential to alarm large numbers of people, you need to address that,” she says. A prime example is Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino’s Pizza’s recent debacle over an employee video besmirching the chain’s food-safety practices and the subsequent video response from Domino’s President Patrick Doyle.

10. Above all, have something interesting to add to the conversation.

Just listing menu items, unless they’re particularly unusual, makes for a boring post. “Say something that shares part of who you are, like, ‘Chocolate ice cream is the only worthy ice cream’ or ‘Just finished making my grandmother’s bread-pudding recipe and it rocks,’ or ‘Completely slammed in the kitchen, no end in sight,’” says publicist Ellen Malloy, founder of Restaurant Intelligence Agency in Chicago. Give readers information they can’t find elsewhere; offer insider deals and promotions; and of course, don’t forget to inject some personality.


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