Your restaurant or bar has a social media presence even if you didn’t create it. Your customers are Tweeting, posting to Facebook, uploading Instagram photos, writing Foursquare Tips and publishing Yelp reviews. And now Google is even predicting how busy your restaurant or bar is at any given time using location data.
Whether your online presence is official or not, people are paying attention to it. Today more people are crowdsourcing opinions before making decisions—especially millennials, who are expected to inject an additional $6 billion into the restaurant industry in the years to come.
If you’re not already building an official presence on social media, it’s time to start. Here’s how you can use social media marketing to engage with customers and help market your restaurant or bar.
1. Don’t Make It All About You
Your social media presence is not just about pushing new products or driving foot traffic. You want a well-balanced mix of engagement posts (that are interesting to your followers) and conversion posts (that encourage them to take action). A good rule of thumb is to have 75% engagement and 25% conversion—or a ratio of three engaging posts per one promotional post.
A promotional post might highlight a new menu item, today’s special or your latest deals and special offers. An example of an engagement post could be a recipe, a quote, an interesting fact, a joke or a peek behind the scenes, like this one from Rick Bayless’s restaurant Xoco in Chicago.
The key here is to have a personality and a voice for your brand. While traditional marketing may use formal language, social media is the time to showcase that there are real people behind your brand and they have real thoughts and beliefs. Chipotle does an excellent job of bringing its “food with integrity” ideal to life on sites like Instagram where the brand showcases fresh food and time spent on the farm.
We had sunshine and good times on the farm yesterday in Ohio. A photo posted by Chipotle (@chipotlemexicangrill) on May 28, 2015 at 1:17pm PDT
2. Respond to Your Customers
When a customer shares a photo or pens an outstanding review, don’t let it go unnoticed. At the very least you should like the post, but a witty comment or a thank-you goes much further. Engaging with feedback in a timely manner—while their experience is still fresh in their minds—could earn you a repeat customer. As a bonus, customers might even share your response with their followers, furthering the exposure of your efforts.
@YoItsMeishMeish Aww thanks! We love that you’re Lovin’ it! 🙂
— McDonald’s (@McDonalds) August 18, 2015
Of course not all feedback will be positive, and some customer mentions will require more action than a quick click of the like button. Make sure that you’re watching for both positive and negative mentions of your restaurant, and be prepared to respond to both in a timely fashion. Social media has turned into a customer support line and people expect a response, and fast.
This might be a source of worry for larger brands, but don’t let audience size deter you from establishing a smart social listening strategy. McDonald’s, for example, has almost three million followers on Twitter alone. That’s a lot to monitor, especially once you factor in the hundreds of mentions coming from customers who don’t follow the brand. It’d be impossible to keep up with all of that chatter, right? Wrong.
Even with its large audience and high volume of incoming messages, McDonald’s boasts an impressive engagement score of 99%. So whether you’re a small cafe or a national franchise, you’re capable of the same success. And the right tool can help you get there. Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox funnels all of your messages across every network into one stream. It can help you keep track of all your mentions across multiple networks so you can respond quickly and efficiently.
@_taetayyy Oh no! Sorry you’re not having the best morning! Let’s see if we can help… somebody get her some of our breakfast, stat! 🙂
— McDonald’s (@McDonalds) August 18, 2015
3. Share Your Hours & Location
Be sure to include your address and hours of operation directly in the bio of your social accounts so potential customers don’t have to click through to your website for more information. Facebook allows you to incorporate a lot of business information into your profile including your address (complete with map), hours, phone number and website.
Many Instagram bios are neglected but this space can be used for addresses, hours and more information about your business. And links don’t need to be limited to your home page. Think about sending visitors directly to your menu page or a special event page or offer.
4. Offer Exclusive Deals & Info
An offer that’s limited to social media followers gives them a reason to continue to listen to and engage with you. But you don’t have to always give a discount to keep your audience captivated. When you consistently share specific information, for example new menu items or daily specials, over a certain network customers will know where to turn to stay abreast.
An obvious time to offer a perk to your followers is when you hit a major milestone, like 10,000 followers on Instagram. Call attention to the milestone and thank your followers with a discount code. Another great place to reward your loyal customers is on Foursquare’s Swarm, where you can offer a deal for the “mayor” (the person who checked into your establishment most) or offer a discount to those who’ve checked in a certain number of times.
You can also share deal on Facebook with using the Sponsored Posts feature. If you’re looking to gain new followers or customers, the easiest way to do this is by offering them a promotion or discount.
5. Take Advantage of Hashtags
Keep track of what’s trending on sites like Twitter and Instagram, and then see if you can use them to your advantage. If #TacoTuesday is trending and you have tacos on your menu, share a photo and add that hashtag. The Chipotle guacamole recipe featured below latched onto a #CincodeMayo hashtag.
A video posted by Chipotle (@chipotlemexicangrill) on
When posting photos of food, you can extend their reach by adding a relevant hashtag, such as #guacamole, #pizza, #icecream or #vegetarian. Don’t forget to add a location-based hashtag as well. Add your city or neighborhood to each photo and you just might be discovered by hungry locals. Do some research on what hashtags make most sense for your business and what hashtags your followers like and use.
6. Share Quality Photos
With an iPhone in hand, everyone’s a photographer. Thanks to the popularity of photo apps like Instagram, today’s consumer has a high expectation when it comes to image quality. Be sure to post well-lit, focused images of your space and your menu items.
“Lifestyle” images, or images with real people in real settings, as opposed to product shots on white backgrounds, tend to perform better. For example, take a close of up of that first forkful of food instead of just an overhead shot of an untouched plate. Or take a snapshot of your bustling restaurant instead of empty chairs and tables. This image shows the bartender in action instead of a static shot of a single drink.
These images can be repurposed on your website and across all social networks, so consider an investment in high-quality photography money well spent.
7. Tag Others
A great way to get mentions is to give them. Whenever possible, be sure to mention other non-competing businesses—and tag them. You can tag customers as well by sharing their content. For example, on Instagram you can “re-gram” their image and give them a photo credit or shout out.
Applebee’s launched a new campaign in which it exclusively features customer photos on its Instagram page. The company asked followers to use the hashtags #Applebees or #fantographer, and enter their Instagram handle on the Bee a Fantographer website, which gives the brand permission to repost their images.
A photo posted by Applebee’s (@applebees) on
You can also leave the tagging up to your followers. Prompt them in your posts with copy such as, “Tag a friend who you’d like to share this dish with,” or “Happy hour starts at 5 p.m. Who would you like to meet here today?” (Just make sure you know how to market alcohol responsibly over social media.) This encourages your customers to tag a friend who might not already be following you, and it might drive some foot traffic as well.
Creating a social media presence for your restaurant can feel overwhelming, but by incorporating these tips into your strategy you can increase awareness, generate engagement and keep customers coming back. Sprout Social can make this process easier by saving you time, keeping you organized and providing analytics so you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Aubre Andrus: Aubre Andrus is a Chicago-based tech journalist and content strategist who loves working with startups. By night she moonlights as a children's book author.