Social media is growing up. Facebook came bursting into our lives 12 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 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.
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.
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.
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 office of Be The Change Revolutions, a social media agency that works with restaurants and food brands.
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.
Sure, there are other social media platforms. But experts agree these platforms are best for restaurants.
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!).
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.
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