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By Lori Walderich
In this series to date, I've covered the consumer side of social media — who's using it and how. In this final installment, I'm going to turn the tables and cover the business side — that is, how restaurant concepts can use social media to build their brand.
It's what I call the 3M method, referring not to the sticky stuff-making company but to a handful of imperatives that underpin a dynamic social media program. They are:
Before I go further, let me say this: A working social media program serves the serious purpose of elevating the brand, so it should be given the same weight as any other aspect of your branding program. If you don't have such a program, I'm here to tell you that you should get one. Driving your brand without a plan is as bad an idea as trying to get from Boston to Bugtussle, Okla., without directions.
Man it. Or, in gender neutral terms, staff it. Make it one person's job to administer the site day to day ... not just "time to time." It's an important distinction. Do not give responsibility for social media to anyone who does not have a time to devote to it daily.
Further, do not put social media management into the hands of the tech-savvy office intern who "isn't doing much but is Mayor of Everyplace on Foursquare." Put someone in charge who understands branding in general and your brand objectives in particular; someone who understands customer relations and has the authority, judgment and tact to address potentially touchy customer "situations." This person can be taught tech skills way faster than an intern can be taught brand management ... and it'll give your intern something to do.
I know it can be a challenge to get C-level execs to think of social media management as something other than a frivolous time-waster. But the fact is that it can be as or more effective at building a loyal customer base than traditional media. If you get C-level push back do a little research and identify similar concepts that are using Facebook effectively. Share this information with execs, along with a clear action plan for your own program — establishing it in stages over time if need be.
Moderate it. Remember when companies started to get online? They'd set up a site, slap the Web address on everything ... and that was it. Soon visitors were trained not to go to the site because content never changed. In five minutes on Facebook, you can find several dozen companies that didn't learn a thing from those early Web years. Their social media has the vitality of a ghost town.
The hallmark of social media is timeliness. Users want to know and share stuff that's happening right now — news, causes, sales, deals, YouTube videos, whatever. So keep it current, relevant and fresh.
Check up on other concepts and see how they're using social media effectively. Some have used the immediacy of Twitter to tap into their customers' hunger for instant news, posting daily specials or the location of a mobile unit, or announcing community events ("Today we're donating 20 percent of all sales to the city's pet adoption program"). If your brand personality supports this freewheeling, ad hoc style, Twitter can be a great way to build excitement and loyalty among customers.
With all social media, the key is to engage people. Impersonal daily posts won't cut it. Your social media manager must interact with visitors, personifying your brand for them (it is social media, after all). Postings should be casual, topical and fun — conversational.
This means not sales driven. If you've had Facebook friends who have used their accounts to push Longaberger/Mary Kay/Amway/Pampered Chef parties you understand the annoyance factor. It's fine to let people know when you've got a deal going, but make it a) occasional; and b) casual — like the friend who says, "Hey, did you know that it's Clinique Bonus Time at Macy's?" To which you reply, "Good to know; I've been out of Radical Facelift in a Jar for weeks!"
And that reminds me — ask questions in your posts. People like to share about themselves and their experiences. So, don't just announce your Holiday Special, ask followers about their best holiday memory or their favorite holiday food. You know, a conversation-starter. It doesn't hurt if you add a freebie every now and then for the best story.
Mine it. Look for trends — comments about the food, atmosphere, competitors, service — that offer insight into customers' perceptions about the state of your concept. Remember, your social media followers will be your biggest fans, the people who know and understand your concept the best.
If you see patterns emerging, you may have the opportunity to add a service or product that would mean a lot to loyal (and potential) customers ... or to correct a problem before it drives them away. And even if patterns are not clear, your followers may still contribute bits of inspiration, humor and observation that blow up into branding brainstorms. We're just starting to see savvy retailers weave memes, themes, online jokes and references into their branding and marketing efforts.
Last night, I saw a TV ad from Wonderful Pistachios that featured the Honey Badger, an Internet sensation that took off when Facebook friends started posting and reposting a link to a YouTube video of the marsupial with a fondness for cobra meat. (I won't link to it because it's "Not Safe For Work," but you should be able to find it easily.) The ad integrated Honey Badger into a larger campaign seeking to make pistachios a hip snack for young adult consumers.
In an interesting integrated way, new media and old merged in a commercial that played to a huge and diverse Monday Night Football audience. Wonderful Pistachios winked at social media fans who shared the inside joke (if any joke known to millions of people can be considered "inside"). The bond between viewer and advertiser became just a little tighter.
And that's what social media is all about.
Lori Walderich is chief creative officer at IdeaStudio, a chain restaurant marketing and promotions firm. Her company helps restaurant clients align their branding and implement strategic marketing plans to achieve consistent, sustainable growth.
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