Influence, personalization, social gaming for loyalty rewards and accessibility are all part of the changing landscape for restaurant social media in 2012. This marketing medium is evolving as more technology becomes available and accessible. Restaurants can utilize the new trends to gain better access to the real conversations people are having. Learn about the new social media marketing tactics and keep your food service establishment relevant and top of mind with customer dining choices.
The Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) reported in December 2011, “With the battle for market share expected to get even tougher – restaurant operators will have to be smarter in how they target “influencers.” (Source
So just who are these influencers?
Well, this is the tricky part. Recognizing who is an influencer within your customer base requires some attention.
Influencers: An influencer is an individual or a group of individuals who influences the opinions of other customers or potential customers.
Discovering who your restaurant’s influencers are lies within the level of interaction you and your staff have with customers. Recognizing regular customers and remembering their names is a great way to start, but another place to look is online. Individuals who impact group decisions about whether or not to visit food service businesses are typically found on social sites such as Facebook
and Urban Spoon
. Local food bloggers and food lovers alike visit websites such as the Serious Eats Talk Forum
the Chowhound Discussion Boards
to discuss local dining options in both major cities and small towns.
Visit these sites and set up a user account. Approach this tactic with a positive and community-minded attitude.
The key is to engage influencers and to capture an influencer’s positive attention.
• Seek out your demographic online. Consider visiting forums on mommy websites, foodie websites, gaming forums or sports-related social sites.
• Remain objective when looking for influencers. Keep in mind that a seemingly cash-strapped college student can also be very social, which can generate a lot of sales towards your business.
• Utilize social review websites to your advantage. See who is a power user, what they say about you or your competitors and invite them for a truly unique experience.
• Find out who the food bloggers are in your area. Invite the literati of the food blogosphere to a specially prepared meal, a behind the scenes tour or a happy hour appetizer sampling.
The key to effective personalization in today’s social media market is to earn the customer’s trust and keep it. This means delivering on offers with a level of service you would give to a VIP. Move away from the idea that you are giving a customer a deal and work within the moment to capture the guest’s attention. Show them that your restaurant offers something unique such as friendly and fast service, quality menu items or a focus on fresh or local food resources.
When personalizing social media interaction with a guest or group of guests, think about what is happening right now
, what is popular and what is a local trend, desire or concern. This opens communication with the customer and displays that you are more than a dining option; your restaurant cares about the customer experience, the local trends and about providing something fresh and relevant.
Personalize your social media outreach with some of these suggestions:
• Target specific online groups for limited time specials - ideas could include: after-school specials, mommy/daddy and me mornings or power lunch combo deals.
• Create an exclusive event for a limited number of guests - such as a new menu preview or a specialty wine pairing dinner.
• Bridge a connection between your business and your customer. Share something personal and positive about your business, such as how you started or what the restaurant’s concept was inspired by.
• Post a funny story (related to your restaurant) or something heart-warming that customers will share with their friends and online connections.
Restaurant social media marketing is trending towards using social gaming
to attract loyalty and brand awareness. This marketing tactic is called gamification.
Gamification: Engaging customer participation by rewarding individuals for interacting with your brand.
If you have a Facebook page, gamification is an easy and integral way to engage your customers by creating a fun experience with rewards and prestige. The goal of this sort of loyalty marketing is to create a community of supporters who share, participate and interact with other members of the same community. These members then invite more members to join the community. As the name suggests this type of social media marketing involves playing a game.
A recent article on theBlackboard.net
, demonstrated how celebrity chef Jamie Oliver began playing the Facebook game, Restaurant City, as a way to attract people to his new cookbook. Jamie became an active participant in the game and even traded ingredients with Restaurant City gamers. This activity gave the celebrity chef an opportunity to be an integral part of a community of 6 million players, now that’s a lot of potential book sales!
Another great example of how to use social gaming campaigns was the Wendy’s “Fry- For- All” game. The game was launched when the burger giant added a new style of French fry to their menu, the natural cut fry. Facebook users were encouraged to participate by posting a small virtual box of fries to their Facebook page. Their friends could then “pick” a fry from the box and both the participant and the friend would be entered into a sweepstakes for a large prize. If a player’s fry box had all the fries “picked” by separate friends, then they would automatically earn a free box of Wendy’s fries. This campaign went viral with popularity and was a successful advertisement for brand awareness.
to see Wendy's Facebook page and get inspiring ideas for your own social media platform.
So how can social gaming or gamification work for your restaurant?
• Install a free game widget on your restaurant website and grant access to users who sign up with their email and a user name.
• Start a game on your restaurant’s Facebook page with a reward system attached to frequency of use.
• Hire a web designer to install a specialty game specific to a new or popular menu item promotion.
• Integrate levels of rewards for points, badges or other status claiming levels of measurement.
For example: a “power player” with 2000 points earns a blue badge and receives a free drink with purchase.
• Display stats of power players and encourage healthy competition among participants.
Customers are learning to expect more from their dining choices. They want a direct connection with their food. This includes communicating where the food comes from, who cooked it, the style of preparation and the meal’s inspiration.
This doesn’t mean telling them the secret recipe to your world famous BBQ sauce, but it does mean more interaction with your best customers. This higher level of accessibility works well online and offline. And, this is the perfect opportunity to mix a new social media trend with a tried and true marketing technique - a smile and handshake.
First, identify who your best customers are. Employ your hosts to track reservations or reward servers for gathering information on regular customers. If you have a loyalty program in place, this is the perfect time to use your customer data to harvest information on who frequents your business and how often. Create a list that includes regular customers, big spenders and influencers. Once you know who these guests are, email them a personalized Facebook invitation to sample a new menu item. Or, offer first dibs on special occasion reservations such as: Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve - or on a more personal note - birthdays and anniversaries.
Accessibility also means putting a face on the brains behind the kitchen. Bring your head chef out to the dining room periodically to personally thank guests for dining with your restaurant. This will bridge a personal level of accessibility from customer to kitchen and it can also make your chef a local celebrity; someone who guests are honored to meet and feel a connection to. Create an experience that leaves guests saying “oh we love this place, the chef is so talented…and he’s so nice! He always says hello” or “The chef sent me a personal email invitation to try this dish. We just had
to come in...”
Here are some suggestions to create a comfortable level of accessibility for your customers:
• Launch a weekly email from your chef, discussing new or creative cooking ideas to try at home. Integrate this with a variation of the weekly or daily special. Invite customers to try a professional version and then try to re-create it at home.
• Send email suggestions to your best customers on what they might like to try next, based on previous orders (just like how Netflix recommends movie titles.) For example, “We notice you love our tomato and rosemary risotto, thanks! We love it too and think you just have to try one of our other savory creations…”
• Encourage your chef and restaurant manager to work the room. Have them greet guests, inquire on their level of satisfaction and appease any concerns before they become problems. Chefs and managers can hand out business cards with the Facebook or restaurant website page noted. This is an in-person invitation to join the restaurant’s social network.
Social media in 2012 is bringing personal connections back to networking. Although this medium of communication involves a lot of virtual contact, when executed correctly it will draw customers physically to your restaurant and will boost your sales, brand awareness and popularity within your target audience.