There’s no question that marketing has shifted into the digital along with everything else. While most of us can accept that, there’s still a certain stigma attached to bringing up platforms like Facebook and Twitter in a marketing meeting.

Make no mistake, to disregard social media as a legitimate source of marketing for our restaurants is a huge mistake. Marketing is all about promoting our products where the attention is – and the attention is all on these platforms, so why wouldn’t we take them seriously?

The fact that other restaurants dismiss them is to our advantage. Let them waste their money working with obsolete marketing strategies and ignoring better ones. Meanwhile, we can reap the rewards simply by paying attention to what works.

Why is Social Media the Way to Go?

Word of mouth has always had an impact on restaurants. Whether a guest has a great experience or a terrible one, we know that a dozen people close to them are going to hear about it.

If that’s true, imagine the impact when sharing an experience through platforms like Facebook or Twitter. These comments, photos, or videos have the potential to reach limitless numbers of eyes and ears, which means they can’t be ignored. The worst thing we can do is leave it out of our control.

Platforms like Facebook give restaurants an opportunity to connect with the consumer like never before. This is great news because we can use this means of communication to bring in even more customers.

Here’s how to use social media to its full potential . . .

Develop a Following

We’ve created our Twitter account, or our Facebook page, or our Instagram profile, now what?

First things first, we need a following – fans who eagerly await our new promotions. After all, what’s the purpose of sharing our current deals, events, or menu changes if there’s no audience to see it?

Lucky for us, we already have fans; customers walk into our establishment every day! What we need to do is entice these customers to follow us online or subscribe.

We could, for instance, offer an incentive to our guests – “Get 15% off any appetizer or cocktail by following our [Facebook] page!”

It’s important to invite our employees to follow us, too. I have witnessed servers and bartenders promote their restaurants without even having the intention of doing so. An employee who takes a selfie in their uniform and asks their friends to come visit them that night is free marketing. They’re also generally the first ones to share, like, or comment on our posts or to promote an exciting new dish in our restaurant.

What we don’t want to do, however, is pressure our employees to market for us. This will lead to resentment and is likely to hurt our reputation.

Don’t Just Promote!

A big mistake restaurants make when jumping to social media is constantly promoting themselves. They forget the “social” in social media and instead focus on jamming their deals down people’s throats.

By consistently promoting, people will tire of us and simply unfollow our pages. If that happens, we disappear.

Marketing with social media is a new game and staying relevant is the goal. To increase our customers and our sales, we must start by getting noticed and maintaining that interest. Many of these platforms like Facebook have algorithms which increase the rankings for posts with more likes, comments, and shares. Staying high on this ladder means we’ll be seen more often and by more people.

Thus, engagement with our fans is everything. The secret is to develop a presence on these platforms that our fans can become familiar with.

The Key to Engagement

While posting about promotions, menu changes, and events is essential to our business, it should play only a small role in our social media marketing. So, if not endless promoting, what should we be posting?

How about introducing a new member of our team or sharing a recipe on how a favorite dish is made? We could upload a photo that our servers snapped with a celebrity or an Instagram story of our bartenders right in the thick of it. Thank employees by name for a busy night or upload a video from the last work party where they embarrassed themselves in a chicken wing contest – the possibilities are endless.

But more than that, it’s about engaging with the community. This means posting a supportive message for our city’s team, wishing people a happy holiday, or warning them of the incoming storm.

How else can we engage? By replying to people’s comments on our posts and having real conversations with them.

Ultimately, we want to develop a personality – that’s what social media is all about! Every now and then, we can mention a promotion or a special event to get people through our doors, but we want to keep the focus on connecting with our fans.

How much should we post? We don’t want to take over anyone’s newsfeed, but we do want to keep their attention. In general, talking to our followers should be a daily thing.

* * *

Utilizing social media as a marketing strategy is not just essential, it’s a no-brainer. With it, there’s no middleman between us and our customers and it costs nothing to maintain. It’s also the most effective way to keep consumer attention.

People aren’t just fast forwarding commercials on their TiVo anymore; they’re watching shows on their smartphones through their Netflix apps. They’re muting and skipping ahead after five seconds of YouTube advertising and scrolling past the annoying sponsor ads on their newsfeeds.

We must keep ourselves educated and avoid falling into the trap of, “I can’t keep up with all this stuff anymore!” This attitude hurts business owners who are trying to stay relevant, today. If we don’t understand or pay attention to the modern consumer, how can we expect them to listen to what we have to say?