Social media is now the rule rather than the exception. It certainly didn't take long for that to happen, but a significant number of restaurant operators are still trying to figure out its true value.
According to Shon Christy, founder of Eat Drink Promote, that value is simple: If a brand wants to be relevant five years from now, it needs to have a prevalent presence on social networking sites. Sixty-seven percent of people who use the Internet have a social media profile. The fastest-growing age bracket for such use is the big-spending 30 to 49 year olds.
As operators continue to navigate the growing social space, they now have much more to learn than just Facebook and Twitter. Christy, who spoke on "The Four Pillars of Social Media" at this week's North American Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, said Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Yelp, Foursquare, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn are all viable marketing platforms.
Christy's four pillars are content, first impressions, consistency and purpose.
Brands must focus on their content, story and messages. But they have to maintain a delicate balance, as social media fans can experience brand fatigue.
When posting content, Christy said:
- Keep your target market in mind;
- Leverage "thank you's" from customers, a key component of content;
- Respond to your customers;
- Maintain customer service;
- Do not delete negative conversations, customers will see this and will have an unfavorable impression;
- Share favorable posts from customers;
- Differentiate, don't be afraid to stand out; and
- Stop spamming promotions and specials with constant posts.
Christy said the biggest "how not to do social media" point is the deletion of conversations, and pointed to Applebee's as an example. That brand deleted negative posts regarding a franchisee's unfavorable reaction to Obamacare stipulations. Fans caught on to the deletions and called out the brand for not being transparent.
When managing a social media presence, it's important for a brand to claim all possible venues and take ownership of them. Customers may have already started a venue (Facebook page for a local unit) or a conversation (on Yelp), but brands should be in control.
Brands should also have the correct profile setups, with photos, hours, parking, phone number, everything. "People think that a good profile means you have a good business set up," Christy said.
He added that it's important to be consistent throughout your social media networks and to have "brand congruence." In other words, the main image should always be the logo.
Finally, Christy said to employ the assistance of a graphic designer to ensure visually appealing, professional profiles.
Christy's third pillar is to maintain consistency. This means having a posting strategy with one person accountable for execution.
"Also, utilize tools to help you be consistent. Tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and SocialOomph help you customize," he said. "Tools like Facebook's orange flag also helps brands manage their profile and notifies them of posts."
Finally, post regularly. The rule of thumb for Twitter, Christy said, is to "do it as much as you want." However, the rule of thumb for Facebook is three to five posts a week following the "3-1-1" rule: Three posts that have nothing to do with your shop; one post presented as a conversation starter; and one post that is original content relating to the restaurant or its history. Also, utilize Facebook's timeline setup with brand milestones, as well as its custom tabs for promotions.
For Twitter, it's important for brands to acknowledge a fan's @handle, as well as a #hashtagged conversation, and to follow those who are following you while replying and retweeting. "Also, do not have a tweet post on Facebook; it looks like an auto-tweet and your fans will know," Christy said.
Have a purpose
The final pillar in Christy's social media plan is to develop a strategy — one that can drive sales, develop loyalty, increase visibility, increase traffic frequency, be an informational resource and help with employee recruitment.
"Think about the things your target audience is into and share that," he said. Christy also suggests to pay Facebook to share your page to get more viewers and "promote a post." "It is worth it," he said.
Beyond Twitter and Facebook
Christy also outlined the benefits of social media sites beyond Twitter and Facebook, including:
- Google+: "In the next five years, Googe+ will be the thing. Get good footing now and you will be ahead of the game," he said.
- Yelp: The peer review site can also include directions, deals, mobile mapping functionality and more. "I highly recommend you being here. This is only going to get bigger and allows you to measure your success," Christy said.
- Foursquare: Utilize this site's geolocation features to reward customers. Foursquare also allows you to calculate how many customers are checking in.
- LinkedIn: This site, Christy said, has low competition, search-friendly profiles, groups to join and is customizable. You can also earn endorsements.
- YouTube: The Google-owned video site has a large following and helps optimize searches for your brand.
- Pinterest: "This should be your next social media because it's easy," Christy said. You can create business and personal pages on Pinterest, create pins and link to relevant information, like and share and more.
- Blogging: Blog sites are a good way to create custom content about your brand. Christy said it's "the last thing you should do if you have the time."
Micky Wheatley contributed to this story.
Read more about social media trends.
Photo cover provided by juaniraola.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.