A robust social media presence is a must for any business today; it’s particularly beneficial for bar and restaurant operators. Social networks from Facebook and Pinterest to Instagram and Tumblr provide a key opportunity to closely connect with your customers and generate additional business and guest loyalty. Here are a few tips for making the most of your social media efforts.
Harness the power of unique promotions
People love free stuff and discounts of any kind. One of the top reasons people choose to follow a brand on social media is to keep up with the latest specials and promotions it offers. But you don’t have to extend discounts for success via your social media channels.
Ram Restaurant & Brewery, which includes sister brand C.B. & Potts, operates more than 30 restaurant and breweries across six states. One of the company’s most popular social-media promotions has been the “Free Burgers for a Year” sweepstakes. This contest promoted the sweepstakes across all of the brands’ web and social media platforms.
The event was also held in conjunction with the Burgerama program, a month-long burger showcase featuring a variety of specialty burgers priced at $12.99 to $13.99. Featured burgers (which have included the Elvis Presley Burger, the Salmon Burger, and the Ritz Cracker Burger) have also been promoted in photos on social media, along with suggested beer pairings when appropriate.
“There’s no discounting with this promotion, and it’s been so successful that it’s run for the past three years in a row,” says John Morse, online media manager for Ram and C.B. & Potts. “The goal is to generate customer excitement around this event, build the brands on social media, and get people into our locations.”
The first time the “Free Burgers for a Year” sweepstakes ran, the brands’ Facebook pages increased by 6,000 fans in just over a month. While the company has never duplicated that large of an increase again, the most recent promotional cycle generated 4,000 new Facebook fans in just two months’ time.
Brands can also create promotions designed specifically to drive people to their various social-media channels. Hard Rock International, a global brand with more than 177 locations worldwide, has a vast social-media presence that includes hundreds of separate pages and accounts on networks including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
The company ran “The Hunt for Hard Rock” in July 2012. The promotion featured a scavenger hunt for consumers, who had to visit the brand’s various social media platforms (including Facebook, Pinterest, and Google Plus) to collect different clues. Once the user explored multiple channels and amassed 15 clues, he or she was eligible to enter to win a trip to London.
“This was a great way for people to learn more about the Hard Rock brand and engage with us across all our different social-media channels,” said Kim Matlock, senior director of digital marketing and CRM for Hard Rock. “We saw tremendous spikes in overall users on all our social channels as a result.”
But you have to use caution when rolling out any large-scale drink promotions due to various state-to-state regulations on beverage sale laws.
One way to manage this is to set up separate location social media channels if you have branches in different states. This way, you can make sure each location adheres to the proper beverage alcohol protocols.
While Facebook and Twitter remain the top social media networks for most businesses, don’t discount the importance of branching out into other channels.
Matlock says that restaurant and bar operators are missing a huge opportunity if they don’t invest in photography-focused social media platforms such as scrapbook-like Pinterest and photo-sharing site Instagram.
“Statistically, 58% of pins on Pinterest are food-related,” Matlock says. “There’s probably no better place on the Internet for restaurants and bars to be,” she says, “It’s a great social engagement tool and a way to direct a large number of referral links back to your website.”
Due to the unique nature of the platform, Hard Rock uses Pinterest as more of an outreach tool to users rather than a way to connect with them directly. By sharing photography that showcases the brand’s offerings—including food, drinks, hotels, music, and memorabilia—the company hopes that people will pin these various options onto their personal boards.
Instagram also allows businesses to showcase their unique offerings to customers. Hard Rock uses Instagram to share photos reflecting the overall brand experience, since food and beverage photos are a large part of that.
The company rolled out a revamped food and drink menu this past March, which features new and updated drink items such as the Air Mexico, a cocktail flight allows guests to enjoy sample sizes of three classic Hard Rock margaritas. The chain posted images of the new menu items on Instagram to generate customer interest and engagement.
Solicit user-generated content
Consumers love social media because it gives them a voice. Businesses that encourage customers to share their experiences with their brand via social media instantly have access to free, user-generated content.
Photos, reviews and testimonials are just a few examples of user-generated content. Consumer testimonials are generally perceived as being more authentic than those created by a company’s marketing department.
“It’s all about what you get your fans to say,” says Amanda Hite, cofounder of BTC Revolutions and founder of Talent Revolutions. A social-media expert and marketing consultant, Hite has crafted community management strategies for clients such as Applebee’s, Cinnabon, and Project Pie. “It’s no different than before social media, when we were focusing on word-of-mouth marketing,” she says.
Applebee’s has 1,869 restaurants nationwide, the majority of them franchise locations. While most of the brand’s engagement takes place on Facebook, Applebee’s also maintains a strong presence on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. The company often cultivates and shares user-generated content, such as photos, mainly on Instagram and Pinterest.
Sharing user-generated photos, such as an image of a customer sipping her favorite Applebee’s drink, often results in more engagement than corporate-produced photography, says Jill McFarland, senior manager of digital marketing for Applebee’s. The casual dining chain always asks users for permission to repost their content, and credits them by including their social media handle in the post.
One of Applebee’s most recent social-media promotions happened by accident. A focus group captured consumer reactions on video after the participants had sampled selections from the company’s new “Have it All” menu, which offers healthy food options that contain 550 or fewer calories. The videos were compelling, but none were of a high enough quality to be used for marketing purposes.
So Applebee’s devised a social-media campaign encouraging people to submit videos of themselves reacting to the new “Have it All” menu. The winning submissions were featured in Applebee’s television commercials, which ran in the first quarter of 2014 and are still available on the brand’s YouTube channel.
“Video submissions are generally harder to get from people than photos, but we received more than 300 submissions, and they were really incredible,” McFarland says.
Chat with customers via Twitter
Another Applebee’s campaign involves the #livelunch hashtag on Twitter. The company regularly hosts Twitter chats on Fridays during the lunch hour featuring “guest stars” who will have a live Q&A chat with followers.
For instance, one of Applebee’s chefs in February answered questions about the brand’s new Kids Menu. She talked about how her son was the menu’s inspiration. The live chat allowed her to better connect with Applebee’s customers, especially parents, strengthening the brand in the process.
Twitter is also good for sharing news or promotions. Hard Rock ran a contest in May 2013 during National Burger Month called “Bite It, Snap it, Post It, Win It.”
Customers shared photos of themselves eating a hamburger at a Hard Rock Cafe on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #hardrockburger. A winner was selected each day during the month of May, and was awarded a trip to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
“We made it very easy for our customers to enter the contest across multiple platforms, and we had tens of thousands of people sharing photos about the Hard Rock brand as a result,” Matlock says.
Connect with customers on the go
Aside from promoting various events and activities, social media is another great way to connect with customers in the moment. Many people check their social media accounts on their smartphones when they’re on the go.
Jamie Boudreau, owner of Seattle whiskey and bitters emporium/restaurant Canon, promotes everything for his bar exclusively through social media. This might be an announcement about events like Negroni Week in June, during which a portion of each $16 Negroni cocktail sale would be donated to charity; or the introduction of new hand-crafted menu items.
“Our philosophy is to not only keep Canon in the front of our followers’ minds on a regular basis, but to remind them of why they like us, and how we’re unique,” Boudreau says.
Boudreau routinely posts to Facebook and Twitter to let his customers know if there’s room at the bar on a slower night. He generally sees a spike in traffic within an hour of posting.
Canon’s clientel tend to be very media savvy, Bourdreau says. “We find social media to not only be better than print, but we can immediately see results,” he notes.
With so many social channels from which to choose, bar and restaurant owners and operators have numerous options at their disposal. Use these ideas to spark some new social media initiatives of your own that will resonate with your customer base and work best for your business.
The one thing you can always count on with social-media is that it’s constantly changing. So you’ll always have room to improve and grow.
Sidebar: Brewpubs Tap Into Untapped
In addition to Twitter and Facebook, both Ram Restaurant & Brewery and sister brand C.B. & Potts are active on Untappd, a social network devoted exclusively to beer. Untappd gives businesses the opportunity to upload information about their various brews. Users can then rate different beers and easily keep track of the different brews that they’ve tried.
While Untappd doesn’t provide a great interface for brands to interact with their consumers, many say that it’s still a worthwhile platform for businesses to participate in.
“It’s basically something we do to provide a fun experience for our customers who are using it,” says John Morse, online media manager for Ram and C.B. & Potts. “We’re maintaining the integrity of our product on the site. It’s a unique opportunity for breweries to participate in something that’s designed exclusively for them.”Morse reports that his two restaurant brands receive an average of 1,500 people per month “tapping” their beers through this social network. They’ve received more than 28,000 taps to date, from 9,000 unique users.