The Instagram advantage: Seven rules for putting this super-visual tool to work for you
As I write this, there are more than 100 million #food posts on Instagram, more than 3 million people claiming the handle #foodie, more than 8 million #foodporn posts and more than a million declarations from #foodgasms. And that is just a handful of the endless number of ways that Instagram followers express their love for food on the 6-year-old social media platform.
We certainly hope you, as a restaurateur, can smell the sweet scent of opportunity that these numbers bring to your door. The platform offers you not only a venue for cost-effective advertising, but also a way to connect and engage with current and potential customers.
In short, I believe restaurateurs simply have to be on this photo and video-sharing social media platform. That's why I want to help you learn how to use it effectively. Here then, are my top seven recommendations for making Instagram work for you.
• Flaunt your chef: Chefs are not only artists, they're cool. Your customers and followers love seeing a pro work his or her kitchen magic to create those food-gasmic dishes you serve. So, by all means, share behind-the-scenes photos of your kitchen staff in action. It's the kind of authentic, slice-of-life stuff Instagrammers love.
• Seek guests' input: Instagrammers also love brands that love their opinions, so think about maybe creating a weekly Instagram marketing plan. Consider things like asking quirky questions one day of the week, then ask customers to post old photos another day, or ask for pictures of customers having fun on Fridays.
• Tantalize with special-of-the-day photos:We can't over-emphasize the importance of this one enough. It's simple, but you'd be surprised how many customers end up ordering strictly off of that picture. Likewise, this kind of effort allows you to obtain direct measurements of how well your social media effort paid off. Consider even posting photos of your specials with a call to action, like a coupon code for the special of the day. That way you have direct, quantifiable proof of your success or failure.
• Sprinkle liberally with influencer marketing: Famous chef, Julia Child once said, “People who love to eat are always the best people." Food bloggers, then, must be pretty fine individuals and they can do pretty fine things for your brand, too. Consider inviting a food blogger in your area for a free meal. Or if they've already visited and enjoyed their experience, ask them to spread the news via Instagram and other social media. The best of these amateur and professional critics can boost your brand's reputation and thus, your sales. So go online and discover which bloggers seem to know their stuff best when it comes to the food you serve.
• Consider prompting user-generated Instagram content: Want to create buzz around your brand? Post a photo of a new dish on Instagram and ask users of the medium to name the concoction. Or prompt users to post photos of their experience in your restaurant with an actionable hashtag. Then award prizes or free meals to those winners. And don't forget to list your Instagram account and hashtags on menus and other restaurant accoutrement, like napkins and take-home bags. It's even wise to choose a few select comments from Instagram for placement on your menu to support the quality of your offerings.
• Give your hashtags some strategic thought: Consider comparing (sometimes called A/B testing) the hashtag names you've created online. Try to create a mixture of time-tested classics, like the aforementioned #foodie or #foodgasm, as well as newer, more unique hashtags that center around your restaurant or event, like #glutenfreeweek and #vegandesserts. Always add your brand's name as a consistent hashtag in your posts to enhance brand recall.
• Time it right: Give some forethought to what time of day works best for different types of posts. So, for instance, if you want to push a dinner special, consider posting around 5 when many folks get off work.
So in the way of final thoughts, just remember to engage your audience on Instagram, instead of advertising to them. Then, sit back and watch things progress because social media is rarely an overnight success. Give your posts time to do their work and reach your best audience. Then build on that.
Seshu Madabushi A serial entrepreneur with a focus on restaurant marketing, working on the latest venture mKonnekt. mKonnekt is a platform that mines customer data to create personalized and unique dining experiences. www