Restaurant marketing and the food service industry has been a professional passion of mine throughout my career. In terms of social media, local marketing and Web marketing, I think this industry is poised for some incredible gains over the next few years. Restaurant marketers, however, must now start to examine a new set of tools and how figure out how those tools fit within existing systems in both their corporate organizations as well as throughout their franchise networks.
Food Service Social Media Universe (#FSMU)
I had the opportunity this week to make the trek to Chicago to speak at Foodservice Social Media Universe. My panel cohorts, Stephanie Krause from HuHot Mongolian Grill and Shannon Zimmerman of Auntie Anne's, and I led a panel discussion on content marketing case studies for restaurant brands. We also attended the rest of the event and learned a lot from the other panelists and the keynote speakers, Jay Baer, Jason Falls and Dan Kim of Red Mango.
Restaurant marketing social media tools: My take on what's out there
One of the best moves the FSMU folks made was to host a "speed dating" networking session that drove attendees to spend time getting to know the sponsors. All of this year's sponsors develop and sell social media tools specifically designed to meet the high demands of restaurant marketing.
I had the chance to visit with each of them, ask a ton of questions and take good notes. The list below shares what I learned and my assessment of each of the social media tools they provide.
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I learned about VenueLabs from Bonnie Brannigan a few days before heading to Chicago. This tool is one of the most impressive social media tools I've seen in the past few years. VenueLabs helps restaurant marketers pull data from hundreds of owned profiles like Yelp, Instagram, Foursquare and others, and allows them to assemble that information in an easy-to-use format. What's even more powerful is that VenueLabs collects data based on locations, even without the presence of brand mentions. Keep your eyes on this one folks — it's a very powerful social media tool for both local marketing as well as operations.
This is a tool I have known about for some time, having kept my eyes on them through my friend Jack Monson over the past few years. Engage121 started as a public relations tool and evolved into a suite that combines social media monitoring, content publishing, engagement and application development specifically for Facebook brand pages. What's intriguing about Engage121 is how it can overlay social 'buzz' activity directly with same store sales data, showing trends and time delays from promotion to purchase. Engage121 also has a nice take on calendars and planning tools for your content.
I've been familiar with Shoutlet's platform for a few years as well, and once recommended them to a CPG enterprise client with whom I was consulting. Shoutlet does a nice job with providing a social CRM tool that is particularly useful for franchised organizations. The platform has the ability to integrate with a variety of ESP's (email service providers) which is a major win. Shoutlet has made some incredible progress in the last few years as far as maturing social media tools go.
While not really in the set of social media tools, Robust Promotions does a very nice job tying scratch-off instant win promotions to the Web via unique URLs and custom redemption codes. Some of its promotions, including one with my former sister company, Mimi's Cafe, saw conversion on contest redemption of more than 7 percent. Pretty impressive indeed.
This online ordering app allows restaurant brands to take online orders via Facebook and mobile devices. What's interesting is that the company will actually ship a tablet, preloaded with its application to each restaurant location so that the staff behind the counter can see the orders coming in and process them for pick up. However, this tool does not currently integrate with any existing POS systems. That will be a real barrier to adoption for a large majority of restaurant clients.
Looking to replace punch card loyalty programs? Belly has designed a software solution that puts physical loyalty key ring cards and mobile apps in the hands of users and then offers discounts to users who check in at specific locations. One of the features in Belly's design also allows a brand to email offers to users who check in to other businesses within a designated proximity around the customer's restaurant or retail location. Unfortunately, Belly does not yet tie into your existing loyalty programs or your POS system. Again, this is going to turn off a lot of restaurant marketing decision makers, particular once the proposal makes it to the C-suite.
SinglePlatform doesn't really classify as a pure-play social media tool, but its simplicity and features make it a very powerful tool. Simply put, SinglePlatform updates your menu across 100 menu sites, including the Top 3 business directory sites and the Top 3 ratings and reviews sites. You can also push menu updates to specific locations and even gather analytics on visits and views. What's interesting is that each menu page updated is also searchable by menu item in addition to brand name. Pretty useful for busy managers.
Deeloiz is a good idea, but one that needs a bit more time to cook. This take on a mobile application for restaurants delivers video content created by a brand at the point of check-in and while the guest is standing in line or sitting at a table. There are several ways to apply a social media tool like this, but since it's in very early start up phase it will be a few months before the platform is ready for larger chains. That said, the app is provided to both consumers and restaurants for free (as of now) which is a good move for a start up working to build trial. Keep your eyes on the Delioz folks as they develop their platform.
Nate Riggs advises mid-sized and enterprise companies in the multiunit retail, food service and CPG industries on how to use the Web strategically to win and keep the attention of their customers and increase profitability. He leads social media strategy as the director of social business at The Karcher Group, a digital agency that acquired his consulting firm (Social Business Strategies, LLC) in January of 2012.