Beyond Facebook, Here’s How Restaurants Can Use Social Media to Bring in Customers

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You may not realize it, but all those food posts on social media are powerful brand endorsements.

As a restaurant owner, you can maximize the impact of your establishment’s social media presence beyond Facebook and Instagram by beefing your Yelp profile and staying engaged with your customers online.

“Word of mouth has turned into word of thumb for restaurants,” says Melanie McLean, an Atlanta marketing director for a range of entertainment companies. People increasingly learn about restaurants by scrolling on their mobile devices.

“It’s an extension of the guest experience,” she explains. “It allows your brand or your restaurant to be more than just somewhere to eat, but somewhere people can relate to.”

Here are some key steps to take if you want to use social media to bring in the traffic.

Make the Most of Yelp

Of course, everyone knows restaurants should have, at a minimum, a Facebook page, because most adult social media users are there. Depending on your circumstances and restaurant type, you may also want to have a Twitter account or, more likely, an Instagram account, where foodies especially love to share pictures of their meals, drinks, friends and surroundings.

The online goldmine that restaurants sometimes neglect is Yelp, the most prominent restaurant recommendation site, with 148 million reviews. For McLean, it’s her top online-related tip for hospitality clients.

Here’s her Yelp checklist:

  1. Ensure the profile is filled out completely: Hours are up-to-date, phone number correct, URL is accurate. Photo must be flattering and show a variety of offerings.
  2. Monitor and tend all customer reviews: Prospective customers pay attention to these, and they want to see pictures. Encourage guests to submit Yelp reviews.
  3. Allocate resources: It may be hard to respond to every review, positive and negative. The best responses are typically written by a manager or other staffer who will represent the restaurant well.
  4. Take special care to track and respond to negative comments: It’s important for Yelp users that restaurants respond to critical reviews, either with an apology or an answer.

Social Tips and Tricks

On any social media platform, follow some basic guidelines and consider these suggestions.

  • Consider paying for discrete social campaigns to precisely target people by location and interests. “Paid social” has come a long way, and isn’t as expensive as many people think
  • Encourage people to share photos with a special hashtag and give them a reward, like a coupon, to get them back quickly.
  • Look for posts mentioning your business, and feature them on your own social media. Then, reward the people who published them.
  • Profile employees, give a glimpse behind the scenes, or share anecdotes about what’s happening in the restaurant.

Here’s What Not to Do

Don’t go overboard with too many overly promotional posts in a row. You want to mix in questions, polls, and other items of interest to your audience.

Be careful with promotions involving alcohol, says Atlanta attorney Michele L. Stumpe, whose specialty is hospitality, alcohol licensing and compliance.

“Make sure that you’re aware of what the different rules are before you advertise promotions” on social media, she says. “If you know an attorney who’s familiar with alcohol licensing laws, it’s a quick conversation.”

Summary: An Ongoing Conversation

Social media is a great way to bring in new customers to a restaurant and to keep engaging with your current clientele.

It should be an engaging, thoughtful, two-way conversation, not just a one-way advertisement.

Every customer with a phone is a potential brand ambassador. Make the most of that relationship.

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