Social Media Must Haves for Restaurants

A well-developed social media strategy has become imperative for today's restaurant marketers

Cora Brady

We live in an age where food is no longer just for consumption. It’s now content; something to be photographed and shared with your followers through your social channels. 69% of millennials have taken a picture of food and posted it on social media. It’s a world where if it doesn’t make it to “the ‘gram”, did it even really happen?

A well-developed social media strategy, with a focus on visual content and paid media, has become imperative for today’s restaurant marketers.  According to recent research by Toast, a company specializing in restaurant management software, 61% of consumers say they find out about new restaurants through social media channels.

In this article we take a look at how social media is impacting restaurant marketing and some considerations for how you can ensure that you’re maximizing the impact of these channels.

Restaurant FOMO is real

What we engage with and share on our social media channels is a carefully curated expression of who we are (or more accurately, how we want to be perceived). This holds true for where we dine and what we share about that experience. As consumers share more and more of their lives through their social platforms, we’ve seen restaurant and food experiences become “not to be missed” events and even a sign of social status.

Visiting buzz-worthy restaurants or experiencing a hot new food trend have become shareable social media moments that consumers seek out. According to Mike Stern, PepsiCo Foodservice Director of Culinary, “Consumers today are seeking experiences—and they want to share these experiences on social media, so if operators can deliver these types of post-worthy dishes that customers crave, they’re in a position to bring in new guests and drive business growth.”

Changing the restaurant landscape

Social media content has shifted how some restaurants develop their physical space, their food presentation, and even their menu. Well-established brands recognize that social media can drive foot traffic and sales through engaging and shareable social content. This can start at the beginning of the brand and menu development process by ensuring you develop an offering that is highly visual and shareworthy.

In April 2017, Starbucks released the Unicorn Frappuccino for just five days. This product changed colour and flavour and was a swirl of pink, purple and blue. The Unicorn Frapp is a great example of a product that was designed around the insight that shareability should start at the product level. While the product was overly sweet (and not incredibly tasty to the average consumer!) it was “Instagramable” – it’s bright, unique colouring was perfect for Instagram-worthy pictures. This product delivered high interest, especially amongst Gen Zers and Millennials, and many purchasers simply wanted a fun pic for their social feed.

How Restaurants can do social well

Is organic social media dead?

While organic media is the holy grail—with changes to social media platform algorithms, most notably Facebook—your content is becoming less likely to reach your followers. Estimates for Facebook organic reach have been identified to be as low as 1-2% of your intended audience.1

Ensure that your strategy has a paid social media component to ensure targeted reach. Whether it’s promoting new locations, limited time offers, or brand messaging, paid social media will ensure you connect with your audience and your content production dollars aren’t wasted.

But that doesn’t mean that organic social media should be ignored. While brand awareness and brand building are usually a key objective for social media, it also plays a critical role in customer retention. In fact, 61% of marketers say they use social media engagement as a retention strategy.2

“We get, on average, anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 comments, messages and posts a day across all of our social properties,” says Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc Senior Digital Manger Josh Martin in an interview with eMarketer. “We still go through all of [those interactions]. We look for opportunities to engage, we look for feedback from our guests, and it inspires us to create additional pieces of content that we [then] put paid behind.”

In the restaurant business, customer service is imperative and social media provides an effective, direct channel to your customers. So, while organic reach may not be what it was years ago, social media still offers a major benefit to businesses in the food and beverage industry.

Own your data

A massive benefit of social media marketing for restaurants is the data it provides. When collected properly, this data can be used to target your content or media and can allow you to add more personalization to your marketing message, increasing the chances of engagement and relevance.

Each time a customer, or potential customer, interacts with your digital property (website, social, app) you’re able to identify and “tag” them in some way. Whether it’s simply liking a post, signing up for your online offers or making an online order, these are all data points that allow us to categorize our customers and re-engage them with our messaging depending on their action(s).

Here are a few examples of using data to power your social media:

  • Facebook pixel targeting: gain insights on customers from your website traffic and create media campaigns that target this audience. You can even target them based on the activity they took on your website.
  • ‘Lookalike’ audiences: in Facebook, using your fans or people who have engaged with your website, you can create a ‘Lookalike’ audience. These are new people who are similar to the people already interested in your business. Targeting this audience helps expand your reach to an audience that is more likely to be engaged.
  • Sequential ads: using social media interactions to build sequential ads through Facebook is a great way to engage or move a customer down the sales funnel.

Whether it’s through audience building, remarketing or personalizing communications, using your data to power your social media efforts will ensure better impact and efficiencies.

Adopt a local location strategy

Given consumers’ reliance on mobile, search, and local reviews, ensuring you’ve got a location strategy developed is key to digital marketing success. This extends to social media as well: consumers are looking for local information through social media and it’s important that your restaurant has a local presence and information.

At the same time, you need to deliver a consistent brand experience. For our QSR and Quick Casual Dinning clients we develop an approach that ensures we build a consistent brand message nationally, but with guidelines, tools, and activations that can be executed at the local level.

Facebook has put a lot of focus behind building the right tools for businesses that need to operate with a combined national and local audience. With Facebook Locations, you can connect and manage all your stores from one dashboard. Not all platforms are created to manage multiple locations therefore it’s important to have a strategy that considers this and leverages different platforms based on their strengths.

If you build it, they will share

Develop campaigns, products and even your physical space with social media in mind. According to a study from intelligence firm Maru/Matchbox, 69% of Millennials take photos of food before eating. Dining has become an experience that consumers want to share.

Millennials often discover new restaurants via Instagram based on the images that others are sharing. Creating bold, visually-appealing dishes is one way of ensuring people will be more likely to share their dining experience. Brands can encourage this sharing by creating dining and food experiences that are designed for social media.

We mentioned the Starbucks Frappacino example earlier on but there are other ways to approach this that are a bit more accessible. Creating a unique wall in your space that customers can share is one example.

Proven concepts that make a space more Instagram-friendly including white walls, bricks, marble countertops, neon signs and soft lighting.  Some even go as far as creating walls complete with hashtags and logos.

Developing marketing campaigns with what consumers want to share in mind is also a proven approach. Our #BurgerBlessed campaign for The Burger’s Priest did just that. We knew from monitoring social channels that our customers loved sharing their custom Burger experiences online, so we found the most prolific sharers and helped them become sharing missionaries motivated to convert others to The Burger’s Priest experience. This was an effective and easy way to encourage sharing and reward loyal customers while leveraging and enhancing The Burger’s Priest’s unique brand.

Think visual/invest in visual content

When creating social media content, it’s important to think visual first. Ideas should come to life with imagery and bonus points for video content. Since we’re dealing with food, it’s necessary to invest in proper styling and photography to ensure the content is appealing. The right lighting and equipment are essential to creating professional social content. This doesn’t have to break the bank—at Bob’s Your Uncle we’ve created an in-house content studio for this very purpose.

We can develop timely, quality food content for clients within their budgets. Everything from short video, images, gifs and cinemagraphs can be planned, shot, and edited in-house, ensuring that lead times allow brands to be a reactive to changes in what’s happening in the world.

Hands holding phone and taking photo of food in content studio.

The good news for restaurant marketers?  If done right, social media for restaurants can absolutely deliver awareness, engagement, and drive sales. Think local and visual, design experiences for the channel, and don’t forget your paid strategy.

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