The State of Restaurant Social Media

Social media is growing up. Facebook came bursting into our lives 14 years ago, followed by Twitter a few years later. Instagram is entering middle childhood. Just a few years ago, these platforms seemed like a cheap and easy way to boost your business. Today, it’s not quite so simple.

“I still (don’t have a) metric that says, ‘If you do this on the Internet, people will come into your restaurant,’” says Kristen Hawley, a digital consultant and curator of Chefs+Tech, a weekly newsletter that covers restaurant technology.

There’s no silver bullet to social media success. Still, customers expect you to be on the three major players: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And they expect you to be posting, reacting and getting creative. Stay connected with these tips.

STAKE YOUR CLAIM

Register your business on every social media site possible – whether or not you will use it. Why? Because the competition for unique URLs is fierce, and you want your operation to be the first one that comes up in a search. Many businesses are registered on Google+ simply because it helps with search rankings. Better to be safe than sorry if you ever want to use that Pinterest account. Keep the name simple and consistent with your business name, and uniform across platforms.

DEVELOP YOUR TONE AND VOICE

Most operators spend a great deal of time honing the look and feel of a restaurant when they’re developing a restaurant concept, from the color of the walls to the design of the flatware. That same “feel” – or tone and voice – of your operation should extend to your social media brand. Are you a serious white tablecloth restaurant trying to convey sophistication? A come-as-you-are family restaurant? A rowdy sports bar? Brainstorm adjectives that describe your restaurant – and use that language to give customers a taste of your operation by conveying that message.

Be authentic. Do you really care what your followers are doing this weekend? Open-ended questions, such as “What’s everyone up to this weekend?” can feel inauthentic, Hawley says. Instead: Think about what is interesting about your restaurant and which posts you’re drawn to on social media. Use that to inspire you.

Be Consistent

If you plan to amp up buzz before you open, keep that same level of momentum going. “I cannot believe how many Facebook pages show the construction of a restaurant, maybe even photos of an opening party, but when the restaurant is fully up and running, there are no photos or no content,” says Amanda Spurlock, senior social media manager at Zagat. Whether you post once a week or once a day, make a plan and stick to it.

CONSIDER YOUR PLATFORM

Each social media site comes with its own set of strengths that can be used to share your message. On visually-driven sites like Facebook, posting a strong image that shows off a menu special around 3 p.m. might tempt someone to come in after work. Twitter, a more information-driven site, can be used to share a coffee deal early before a morning commute. But use a soft sell to deliver the information, such as a teaser video or a clever photo on Instagram. Experiment with different posts at different times to see which ones attract the most attention for your operation.

The versatility of photos and videos on Instagram is the draw for Chef Craig Deihl at Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant Cypress. “Instagram allows me to paint a picture for people who can’t be behind the scenes with me,” he says. “Its greatest marketing value is that I can showcase my food quickly, efficiently and beautifully.”

GET MOVING

Every major social media channel now offers the option to post moving images. Focus your energy on videos and GIFs (image files that support animation), Hawley says. A quick video of your chef plating a meal can help you stand out in the sea of static images or text on any platform. “Moving pictures is the latest hack in getting people’s attention for a longer period of time,” says Brandon Hill, co-founder and chief creative officer of Be The Change Revolutions, a social media agency that works with restaurants and food brands.

Chef-Owner Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin uses Instagram video to show how the restaurant folds napkins. Searchable hashtags like #kitchenlife and #restaurantlife are popular for sharing the chaos of working the line, or creating a goofy montage of back-of-house antics.

Chef Gregory Gourdet of Departure Restaurant + Lounge in Portland, Oregon, likes Instagram for its lengthier 15-second time frame and lack of “noise” compared to Twitter. He uses it to show off labor-intensive dishes at the restaurant and form a connection with diners. “Followers and fans who don’t know you can see you are a real person – they can hear your voice and see your mannerisms,” he says. “I post videos of me doing things outside of the kitchen, so they get a full picture of who I am.”

DIVERSIFY YOUR CONTENT

Streamlined online tools like HootSuite or Sprout Social are great tools for linking multiple social media accounts together, but that doesn’t mean each post should be the same. Remember: you might have fans following you on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And a follower who starts seeing repeat posts is more likely to turn you off.

INVEST IN PROMOTED POSTS

We know what you’re thinking: “I thought social media is free. Why do I have to pay for this?” It’s the same reason you spend money on advertising or for a publicist: exposure. Facebook can expose your brand to potential customers. Promoted posts can be micro-targeted to a specific location, age and gender demographic to increase followers and, in turn, increase the number of locals who are regularly exposed to your posts. Added bonus: it’s not that expensive!

ENGAGE EMPLOYEES

Maybe social media isn’t your strong suit, but chances are that you have someone on staff who lives and breathes it. Younger, tech-savvy employees can reinforce your brand by incorporating social media into their role. But first, create a policy of do's and don’ts to avoid possible social media disasters.

SOCIAL IS THE NEW CUSTOMER SERVICE

It’s basic hospitality: be customer-focused, not marketing-focused. Social media can be used to build customer loyalty and nurture repeat business. So, keep an eye on social media during service. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for customers to live-tweet complaints – but if you’re paying attention, they can be quickly rectified. You might not change the commentator’s mind, but responding online reflects well on you. Above all, however, don’t delete negative comments or get combative. This just makes people angry – and they’re likely to come back at you twice as hard.

Be Realistic

Many social media platforms provide access to analytics, such as page views and search terms. It can be tempting to draw a line from a great post to an increase in diners, but the restaurant business is far more complex, Hill says. Consider exposure as the larger goal, which is brand-building.


Social Aptitude 

Sure, there are other social media platforms. But experts agree these platforms are best for restaurants:

Instagram

Launched: 2010

Users: 400 million monthly active users

Old Thinking: Filters. “Filters used to look cool, and people would go nuts with them,” Spurlock says. “Now we’re letting the photos speak for themselves.

New Thinking: Crowdsourcing. Using images from the community is the smartest way to leverage content for your feed, Spurlock says. Ask customers if you can repost great shots that your restaurant is tagged in. “By doing that, you’ve not only flattered your customer, but you’ve also got content very quickly and easily for your channel (giving credit, of course!).


Twitter

Launched in: 2006

Users: 316 million monthly active users

Old Thinking: #Hashtags. A few years ago, the motto for hashtags seemed to be the more, the better. Best to use them sparingly, strategically, and make sure they accurately represent the content. 

New Thinking: Customer service. Just like Yelp, many guests use Twitter as a platform for shout-outs—good and bad. They often happen while a guest is at the restaurant, so dedicate a staff member to respond to Twitter interactions. “People are typically impressed by a restaurant taking the time to reach out and comment,”  Spurlock says.


Facebook

Launched in: 2004

Users: 1.55 billion monthly active users

Old Thinking: Free advertising. It used to be easier for operators to reach potential diners organically. Today, the site is saturated, and you should expect to pay to push some posts out, Hill says.

New Thinking: Concierge. In addition to its value as a conversation platform, Facebook is also the new Yellow Pages. Customers look to restaurant Facebook pages for the same basic information they would find on your website. Be sure it’s current.

Gloria Dawson is a New York-based writer. She’s been known to post photos of her meals on Instagram at @gloriacdawson