Bar And Beverage Restaurants Integrating Social Media

The power of the crowd can no longer be overlooked in the hospitality industry. In the same way that websites and emails revolutionized business, social media is a true business technology game-changer.  Consider this – Facebook has more than 300 million active users.  50% of them log on to Facebook in any given day and the average user has 130 friends.  The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55 – 65 year-old females.

The sheer volume of people enrolled and actively participating in these sites makes it a compelling reason for restaurants to join the conversation. Guests are talking about your concept online through social media sites with or without you.  The rapid growth and influence of social media is changing how restaurants and bars are doing business. Progressive restaurant chains are actively engaged in the social conversation, listening to their patrons, molding the conversation and using it as an influential vehicle to enhance their brand’s identity.

Projected Growth

According to the August 2009 CMO Survey Highlights and Insights, social media spending is expected to grow by 300% in the next 5 years.  Marketing budget spending is projected to grow from the current levels of 3.5%, to 6.1% in the next 12 months, and 13.7% in the next five years.  The biggest growth is expected in the Business to Consumer service sector.

Do you know what they’re they saying about your brand and do you know how to deal with it?

Unlike traditional marketing that uses bold messaging to grab the consumer’s attention, social networking combines the fine art of relationship building and the media savvy of public relations to build positive brand awareness and develop a following.  The social media space is an excellent way to monitor the consumer’s perception of a brand, as well as their competition.

Creating a loyal following of your brand requires a subtle approach based on understanding, observation and offering company information and incentives at the appropriate times.  It’s a place where fans of your brand can meet, exchange their experiences and let others know about you.

How it Builds Your Business

Getting involved in the social media conversation shows fans of your brand that your interested in building a relationship with them and hearing what they have to say.  There is no other medium that allows any business to stay that close and engaged with their guests.  It builds brand loyalty, keeps the consumer informed about your business, and encourages positive word of mouth.

What to do?

Listen. The crowd is talking.

Start with the basics.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums and restaurant review sites are all good choices.  Use Google Alerts to track keywords and brand mentions.   Use a reputable social media monitoring tool to follow the Facebook and Twitter conversation as stories about your business could go viral within minutes.  Negative press within the cyber world can be proactively managed provided your following the conversation.

Implement Guidelines

Bored Domino’s Pizza employees decided to film themselves performing unflattering acts with sandwiches, and thought it would be clever to post their deviant behavior on YouTube.  The video was a viral hit.  Dominos was quick to respond and used their social media network to apologize.    Monitoring the chatter is crucial so companies can act before the situation gets out of hand.



Engage your audience

People who are talking on social media networks are current or potential customers. This form of word of mouth marketing can either champion or erode your brand.  Respond to everyone that talks about your brand whether it’s positive or negative. Reaching out shows that you are taking an interest and care about your customers.  Whenever possible, engage them in a conversation or at the very least send them a thank you.  In the event a guest had a negative experience, reach out and rectify the problem before it spreads.  Acknowledge when your service levels did not live up to your company standards, and communicate how you plan on making positive changes.

Social Marketing

The two main objectives of Social Media marketing are to achieve greater engagement with your customers to build loyalty; and drive positive word of mouth.  It is also an excellent tool to build your brand, share ideas, provide a forum for feedback, increase awareness, and entice new talent to seek employment with your brand.

Social marketing is inexpensive, incredibly responsive, and has the ability to develop brand champions more than any other form of marketing.  Consumers extend trust to other consumers who have purchased from you. According to a July 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while in a different study it is estimated that only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI.

Twitter is an easy to use medium to announce news, features, entertainment, etc.  It’s instantaneous and costs you nothing to participate.  Blogs can showcase testimonials, pictures from a specific event, menu items, the view, food & drink recipes, employee bios or anything that relates to your restaurant.  A blog is also an excellent way to get indexed in search engines and gives that out-of-town hockey team a way to find you on the web over your competitors (25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content). 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.

Don’t forget to email a monthly newsletter with the latest happenings, new menu items, entertainment news, recipe of the month etc. Make sure your restaurant can be found on restaurant guides like Urbanspoon.com and Tripadvisor.com.  Set up a Facebook fan page to connect with your customers.  Keep it updated with fresh content and always make sure you’re involved with the conversations that are taking place.  Like your blog, YouTube and other video sharing sites take your customer behind the scene and show them a part of the restaurant that only insiders are allowed to see. Provide a few quick tips and how-tos from the house chef.  Show them the magnificent view from your patio.  Photosharing sites like Flickr can achieve the same purpose.

Here’s what Social media marketing can’t do:

Serve great food

A social media marketing campaign is not going to stop the negative chatter if customers are routinely having a bad experience.  Focus on a great guest experience first.  The social mediasphere will spread the positive message.  No amount of spending is going to circumvent the bad press from repeated bad experiences.

Substitute for marketing strategy

A Twitter campaign, or a Facebook page that announces your weekly specials is not a marketing strategy.  Social media is a part of your overall marketing efforts.

Succeed without top management/owner’s buy-in

Social media requires a way of thinking that includes a willingness to listen to customers, implementing changes based on feedback, and trusting employees to talk to customers.

The culture of fear (of job loss, of losing message control, of change) is ingrained in many corporate cultures. Top management/ownership has to want to change.

Be viewed as a short-term project

Social media is not a one-shot, silver bullet. It’s a long-term commitment to communication, experimentation, and change that requires time to gain traction.  Do not expect a quick fix to sagging sales or a tarnished reputation.  Like PR, social media marketing often produces its best results in the second and third year.

Be done in-house by the inexperienced

Even though you may have “kids” on your team who “understand social media innately”, you need strategy, contacts, tools, controls and experience. Experience and perspective makes for better execution.   Companies trying to run social media without experienced consultants can waste time, money, and reputation on their efforts.  Is it really wise to allow the lowly “Twintern” to communicate your brand values to your customers and influencers? A successful social media campaign integrates social media into the many elements of marketing, including advertising, mobile, and PR.

Be done without a realistic budget

A lot of social media marketing is inexpensive or free, but building a site that incorporates interactivity, allows user-generated content, and perhaps also includes e-commerce requires funding.   To turn a free blogging service such as WordPress into an effective interactive site that use branded style sheets and incorporating e-commerce requires experience, skill and money.

Replace PR

No matter how great your website, video contest, blog or Twitter strategy, you still need a managed Public Relations strategy that communicates key messages and keeps your brand top of mind.  As you craft your social marketing campaigns remember to be genuine in your communications, valuable in your content, and diligent in providing a steady stream of new and valuable content.  Do not spam, be overtly commercial, or waste people’s time.  It’s a social network that requires newsworthy information to keep fans of brand interested and engaged.

Janice Lucarelli is the Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications for GuestEngine Inc. http://www.guestengine.com.   GuestEngine is an online restaurant marketing tool that integrates the best of all restaurant marketing practices into one platform. It includes CRM data storage, loyalty programs, automated e-mail and direct mail campaigns, online surveys and mobile marketing. For more information contact Janice at 1.888.801.1888 ext. 227 or janicel@guestengine.com.