If you can get all of your regular customers to come into your restaurant just one more time a year, and spend a little more for just one more meal, it will make a big difference in your business. That’s why getting your regular customers involved in your social media strategy is the key to success, according to Katrina Padron, CEO of Padron Social Marketing.
Padron offered tips on how to strengthen your fan base and attract new guests via social channels during a webinar Wednesday sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
Getting your loyal guests involved
One of the best ways to get regulars involved in your social media strategy is to leverage photography sharing.
"How many times have you seen diners snapping pictures of their food, their friends? They are taking pictures and posting them – generally to Instagram," Padron said.
Get current customers involved on your page by using Statigram, where you can search for your brand, a specific hashtag, etc. You can then "regram” those photos and use them as part of your Instagram profile and thank them for posting the photo.
"You can build the relationship with them and show up in front of all of their friends as well," Padron said.
Email marketing list
It's also time to dust off the email marketing list many restaurant operators began accumulating long before Facebook.
"Because social media is a hot topic right now, we forget about them, but you worked hard to build lists, use it. Integrate them into your social media plan," Padron said. "The people on the lists like your restaurant enough to be notified by email about upcoming promotions and specials.This is a great group of people to get back in your restaurant more often.”
A strategy Padron uses to make such integration happen is called fangating, which means offering something – a recipe, a discount, etc. – in exchange for a like. She said one of her clients went from 0 fans to 8,000 fans in a short amount of time through fangating, with no paid advertising dollars. She uses Woobox for this effort.
Padron said one of the most challenging components of a social media presence is in creating enough compelling content. Restaurants, however, have a bit of an advantage, as they’re highly visual. Post pictures of food, taste testing, the chef in action, a crowded dining room, décor, promotions, team members out in the community, etc.
"Create content on the fly. Once you get going, you’ll have more content than you actually need," she said. "Get creative and snap away. Fans will love it because they’ll recognize it. It’ll be familiar.”
Finding new guests
Once you retain current guests, the next piece is to find new guests. One way to do so is through Facebook advertising. Padron advises against boosting posts, however.
"Basically (for boosts) you’re paying to get eyeballs. I don’t know that eyeballs is the best thing for the business. I want to know if people came into the restaurant. With eyeballs, you’re not necessarily getting likes or comments, which is a relationship building technique, and you're not necessarily getting shares," she said.
She does, however, like Facebook's advertising panel, calling it the best out of all the platforms, including Google, because of its targeting capabilities.
"Facebook has so much information on us that we don’t even realize we give to them and you can target your guests based on this information," Padron said.
For example, if you’re a family friend restaurant, you can target your ad to parents, and even hone it down further to parents with specific ages of children. You can run ads for children of graduation age, or ads that target other life events, such as pregnancies, those who have an upcoming birthday or those who have recently moved. You can even target your competitors’ customers.
Most business operators don't think of LinkedIn as a way to engage their fans, but Padron said it can be beneficial for restaurants with catering services.
"LinkedIn just isn’t the party that other platforms are, but it's so powerful for attracting people with specific job titles and the biggest area restaurants can use this is to increase catering sales. I love LinkedIn for catering lead generation," she said.
To take advantage of the site, seek out people with specific job titles in your market, for example "administrative assistant." Then send them a short message telling them how you found them, telling them about your catering service and what makes it unique, and telling them how to get in touch with you.
Tools to free up time
Social media can easily become a time suck. Padron suggests three tools to help ease some of this burden:
Buffer App: Allows you to schedule posts ahead of time daily.
HootSuite: Also allows you to schedule posts ahead of time, and includes a panel that shows all of the content being posted about your restaurant. It's good for reputation management, Padron said.
LeadPages.net: Good for capturing email addresses.
Sharing is key
The ultimate objective for a social media plan should be to get shares. Think of it like a match, Padron said.
"Think of that match as your message. Take that spark and spread it as far as you can, like wildfire. That's where social media strategies get to be most effective, is when other people are sharing you message.”
She suggests some tips on how to start that fire:
- Send a press release to local publications, ask to include your information in the "things to do” sections.
- Send information to the social media coordinator of the newspaper.
- Ask other people with big networks to share it on their page.
- Partner with organizations or other businesses that share common goals.
- Share your content by positioning yourself as an expert; for example, recipes or how-to's.
Dedicated staff and policy
Finally, if you're wondering whether or not to dedicate the staff and budget for social media efforts, consider that people 25-44 years old spend about 23 minutes four times a day on Facebook.
"People are there," Padron said.
She recommends having a social media policy in place that outlines the appropriate voice to use across social channels. Choose a couple key staff members to help with your social media strategy, and have them sign that policy prior. Train them on best practices to save them time and help their posts get more exposure. Start with one or two social media platforms and get a good start before jumping into more channels.
You can also limit those employees' access through the Facebook admin page. Choose to only give them access to post and respond to other comments, and you can remove access if they leave the company.
The best times for posting include the morning, lunch, after work and at night.
"Try to catch people when they're making a decision about eating," Padron said.
The best practice to remember is to make sure you're appealing to your target audience and solving their problems. For example, Padron is a mother of two, including one picky eater, and is on the go a lot.
"Give me the content through social that solves my problem about finding something healthy and finding something for my picky eater and I'm going to open that," she said. "Who is your target, what are their problems, what are your solutions? Post those solutions as your content."
Photo provided by Flickr user Yoel Ben-Avraham.
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.