According to research by Sprout Social last year, 75% of respondents said they have made a purchase because they saw it on social media. Compare this with the rates of more traditional forms of online marketing – traditional forms which can eat into even the largest company kitty – and understanding why there’s a preference for social media is not a difficult task.
A compelling difference if ever there was one. But it gets better – social media takes one of the oldest, most natural of advertising methods, and runs it through new medium. ‘Word-of-mouth has always been one of the most valuable forms of endorsement for a business,’ says Katy Riddle, founder and director of Market Fresh Communications. ‘And with social media, word can spread even further.’ So, for new or long-existing restaurant and bar businesses, how can these advantages be best used?
Rules of Engagement
When weighing up the opportunities with social media, it may be tempting to dive straight in after the first five minutes. But Hugh Wright – a communications guru specialising in PR for restaurants, bars, and hotels – says an interest in social media is a good chance to consolidate your brand’s personality. ‘Before you even set foot on social media,’ says Hugh, ‘spend time working out what your tone of voice is. Especially if more than one person will be managing your social media. Think about language – what words do we use, and what don’t we say? Do we use emojis? Do we abbreviate? Do we say ‘we’ or ‘I’? These may seem like small details, but it really does make a difference.’
Similarly, if you have any intention of avoiding potential for embarrassment, it’s worth deciding on what strategies not to take. ‘Avoid jumping on the back of every trend,’ says Hugh. ‘Users are, I think, getting very bored of the constant through-the-week clichés of “Happy Monday or Hump Day”, “Nearly the weekend”, and “Friyay”’. Katy, meanwhile, very much agrees. ‘Don’t post anything on social media that you wouldn’t say say to someone in person,’ she says. ‘And bear in mind that humour can sometimes be hard to translate.’
Channelling Your Energy
A common sight when scrolling through social feeds is to see restaurants with the right message, but directing it through the wrong medium. And yes – no matter how ostensibly similar they may appear, each social channel has its pros and cons. Interestingly though, when choosing between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even YouTube, we’re at a fork in the road on what strategy to adopt. Hugh says he’ll ‘always recommend that clients use the platforms with work best for them,’ while Katy asserts that a restaurant should have ‘a social media presence on all the key platforms,’ as this is the ‘best way of engaging with as many potential customers as possible.’
That said, Katy appreciates businesses – especially the smaller operations – only have so much time and resources on their hands, so it’s worth evaluating each and every option. ‘Most potential customers are likely to have a Facebook account already,’ she says. ‘Instagram is the fastest growing channel which is a particularly effective platform for presenting food and drink, and I have always found Twitter to be a good platform for communicating with other food businesses and people interested in the restaurant industry.’
Unfortunately, planning and implementing a social strategy is not all plain sailing. Especially when – like many other forms of marketing – it’s hard to discern how well all your hard work is paying off. If, indeed, at all. ‘Likes, shares, retweets and so on certainly help to gauge sentiment and awareness around your restaurant,’ says Hugh. ‘But it can be difficult – but not impossible – to actually measure whether any of it translates to bums on seats.’
Somewhat ironically, the social platforms themselves aren’t making it any easier either. ‘It’s now harder for a business’ posts to be seen by its audience,’ says Katy. ‘And the new algorithms introduced by Facebook and Instagram have reduced organic reach even further.’
Help at Hand
While it’s true social media is, at the very least, a free marketing tool with close to infinite potential, you won’t properly explore that potential without investing at least a small amount of capital. ‘Like any marketing campaign,’ says Katy, ‘social media posts will require interesting content. This means appealing, high-quality images of food, drinks and the venue. So it may be necessary to invest in the services of a professional photographer. The good news is that these images can then be used for websites, press announcements, and other promotional activities.’
The same can be true of managing social channels themselves – particularly for small businesses, dedicating a significant amount of time and knowledge to social media is an unrealistic proposition. But then, that’s why people like Katy and Hugh are in demand. ‘If you aren’t confident about managing social media yourself,’ says Hugh, ‘look into retaining someone who can do it for you, or train you on how to do it yourself. Done well, social media can be a huge asset to your business. Done badly, it can seriously affect how people perceive you.’