R MAGAZINE – Social media is a great marketing channel for restaurants to utilize, as it helps to build brand awareness among new customers and engage with existing customers. The food industry can take advantage of many major social platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to foster brand loyalty and even improve sales.

According to a National Restaurant Association survey, 25 percent of consumers say technology options are important factors in their decision to choose a restaurant. In order to remain competitive, restaurants need to maintain an active social media presence.

To establish this active and engaging social media presence, restaurants need to keep social media best practices in mind. Here are a few tips for building your brand on social media:

 

Share Visual Content

One important aspect of a successful social media post is visual content. In fact, brands on Facebook have seen a 65 percent increase in engagement when sharing visual content. Whether it’s an image, illustration, or video, shared visual content should be unique and high quality. This is especially important on Instagram, where images and videos dominate users’ feeds.

For restaurants, social media content could showcase new menu items or give a behind-the-scenes look into daily operations, for example, Nicole Franzen, a food and lifestyle photographer in Brooklyn, says “People use Instagram to get closer to a person, so they like to see behind-the-scenes photos…In the past 10 years, cooking has become so popular that [chefs] are treated like rock stars.”

Another way to engage and entice potential customers is to share images of your restaurant’s ambience. One San Francisco restaurant, Leo’s Oyster Bar, often shares photos of their eclectic tropical-themed Tiki Lounge on Instagram. This way, potential customers can get a sense of the dining experience before even visiting.

A good rule of thumb for social content, according to Sprout Social, is a “well-balanced mix of engagement posts (that are interesting to your followers) and conversion posts (that encourage them to take action).” They recommend having a profile with 75 percent engaging posts, and 25 percent conversion posts.

 

Engage With Audiences

It’s also important to actively engage with your audience on social media. Restaurants can participate in social conversations by responding to fans, sharing their content, and tagging them in relevant posts.

Restaurants can take advantage of images shared from customers’ dining experiences, especially on Instagram. This not only will make the account more engaging, but also take some pressure off of the restaurant’s social media manager. Search for images tagged at your restaurant or using a branded hashtag to find user-generated content on social channels. These images can then be repurposed or reposted on the restaurant’s account.

Sharing user-generated content also enables restaurants to engage with audiences by tagging usernames and utilizing relevant hashtags.

Many social media users reach out to brands with questions or concerns through Twitter. Restaurants should be active on this platform to acknowledge and respond to mentions of your brand, whether they are positive or negative. For negative comments on Twitter, usually a simple apology or gift card is all it takes for an upset customer to give your restaurant a second chance.

Starbucks uses Twitter to track down brand mentions of followers and non-followers and reply to them with information, appreciation, empathy and gratitude. When a customer complains about their experience on this social channel, Starbucks’ social media managers offer an apology and direct the user to email customer service with more information.

Use Hashtags

Hashtags are critical on social media. There are many popular food-related hashtags that restaurants can use to reach more users with their content. Cuisine-specific hashtags like #pizza, #icecream, or #vegetarian help your content reach a relevant audience.

Examples of other popular hashtags to take advantage of include #TacoTuesday and #WineWednesday. Try piggybacking on these hashtags with a promotion or discount.

General food hashtags that can reach large audiences include #foodie, #foodporn and #foodstagram. These hashtags are widely used, however, you may want to also include a branded hashtag to get more visibility from your target audience.

Restaurants can also reach local audiences with location specific hashtags as well, such as #Boston, #NewYork, or #Chicago. These tags help your content reach users searching for restaurants nearby.

Offer Discounts, Deals and Contests

Social media channels can also be used to promote discounts and deals that help bring in more customers. One suggestion from Sprout Social is to offer a discount when social accounts reach a certain follower milestone.

Contests offer another engagement opportunity on social channels. For example, Serafina Restaurant holds a monthly “Love Serafina” Instagram contest with hashtag #LOVESERAFINA and rewards the best photo with a $100 gift certificate.

Utilizing branded hashtags in conjunction with a promotion can increase reach and engagement. For example, Pinkberry offered users an Instagram giveaway to promote a new product, #Pinkbees. The post had over 75 comments and 700 likes, which shows how this type of post can generate significant interest about a new product and your brand.

Final Thoughts

A recent survey from the National Restaurant Association found 92 percent of frequent social media users eat at a sit-down restaurant at least once a month, which means the majority of your customers are on social!

With the right strategy, social media is an opportunity for restaurants to engage those users, gain new customers and foster brand loyalty.

Author Bio: Warner Siebert is the SVP of Sales & Marketing for CAKE, a Sysco company. Hailing from New York City by way of Baltimore, Warner began helping restaurants when he founded BuzzTable in 2011, which was acquired by Sysco in 2013 and rebranded as CAKE Guest Manager. A coffee aficionado, Warner spends time hiking with his dog and enjoying all that Silicon Valley has to offer.