Not that long ago, newspaper ads, direct mail and, if you could afford it, TV and radio commercials were the vehicle to drive new customers to your doorstep. How you engaged them when they got there was what turned your guests into repeat business.
With social media, engagement goes far beyond wooing people to your business and wowing them once they get there. Savvy operators are using social media platforms to maintain a connection with their clientele before, during and long after their visit to their brick and mortar location. Simply put, unlike any other medium, social media allows your business to become a part of people’s lives, even a part of their personal identity.
And more and more people are welcoming that digital interaction. In 2005, only seven percent of adults used social media sites. Last year this reached a whopping 65 percent of all adults. More importantly, social media is increasingly guiding consumer behavior. In a recent National Restaurant Association survey, one third of consumers said that they factored in information they found on social media when choosing a restaurant.
The numbers are even more impressive for Millennials, the sought-after demographic that spends more per capita dining out each month than any other generation. Five out of six Millennials in the U.S. connect with companies on social media networks, and 68 percent say they ask friends’ opinions, and very possibly ask them on social media, when picking out a restaurant.
Clearly, if you’re not taking advantage of what the social media ecosystem has to offer, you’re missing out.
Facebook is still a must
Unless you have a full-time team that can stay devoted to the cause, choose your social media platforms wisely and ensure that they are appropriate and effective platforms. Due to the graphic richness of the hospitality industry, imagery is key. This is why the undisputed leader of social media, Facebook, remains the top choice for much of the hospitality industry.
Why? Facebook is continuing to grow and develop levels of marketing based on big data, and as its data sets expand, so do the nuances of connectivity and reach. A key factor in Facebook’s forward motion is its ability as a company to identify and absorb rising social media platforms such as photo-based Instagram, thus ensuring its future with the fickle digital audience.
So let’s look closely at the Facebook model. It’s not only the most widely used platform, but its networking versatility coupled with its sophisticated marketing and analytics features makes it a perfect place to craft an identity for your business. Now when you develop micro-marketing strategies through Facebook, you can also reach an Instagram audience with a click.
Populate your feed
The easiest way to use your Facebook page is for product broadcasting or basic self-promotion. For any type of business, posting news about promotions and sales is a great way to get the word out to your followers. However, it’s important to mix these promotional posts with other types of content, otherwise your page will start to feel like a giant advertisement and your followers will interact less with your posts, less loyal followers will shed you from their feed, and Facebook’s algorithms will lessen your visibility.
Think about the numbers. The average penetration rate of a Facebook post to your follower newsfeed is less than 20 percent. This means that each post may only be seen by about one fifth of your followers. Your goal is to beat this average.
One simple hack to increase penetration is to focus on photos and regularly post pictures of what you offer as profile or cover photos. This will populate more of your followers feed than a traditional post. Another way to increase your presence is to grow your following beyond benchmark numbers, the first of which is 1,000 followers.
You need to be social, so share something someone wants. If you’re a restaurant, take pictures of new menu items or old favorites. People love pictures of food, and done well they inspire powerful cravings. If you‘re a lodging establishment, take well-composed pictures that showcase the beauty of your property or share photos of the surrounding area to give people a reason to visit.
Even better, customers are probably already taking pictures of your products, property, or of themselves hanging out with their friends in your establishment. Capitalize on this customer-generated media by encouraging posting on your page. Their posts are great for your reach because profile-to-profile posts are heavily favored by Facebook’s algorithms.
You can raise awareness of your social media presence with guests with strategies as low tech as table-tents or as high tech as Facebook beacons which will ‘ping’ a customer’s phone, inviting them to like your page, redeem a coupon, or post that they’ve checked in to your establishment. You can also get your own beacons without much investment.
Another content strategy – one that can take a little more thought and attention – is using your Facebook page to interact with the community. Post news you find online that’s specific to the community where your business is located or share posts and content from other businesses in the area that aren’t direct competition. Odds are, you won’t have to do this too many times before they start sharing your posts as well.
This brings us to the most important, and most nuanced, social media objective: getting your clientele engaged on your page. Engagement is any type of user interaction that leaves a mark on your page, and theirs. This can be a “like” or any of the “reactions,” recently introduced on Facebook, a “share” or a comment, and you want to encourage all of these. When someone engages with your post, it shows up on their activity feed, promoting your brand to their friends. This effect can quickly become exponential if your post becomes particularly popular. And, most importantly, it’s an indicator that someone has decided to make you part of their social identity. They may come to consider your brand part of who they are, and to consider themselves and your establishment as part of their larger community.
Nourish your relationships by giving prompt attention to user comments, good or bad. Responding to positive comments lets people know that you care and makes it more likely they’ll continue to engage with your business’s page in positive ways. This personal attention makes it even more likely they’ll continue being your customer. It leaves them with the same feeling people get from a good concierge, or the manager stopping by their table.
Negative comments can also warrant responses, though turning them to your advantage does require particular care. A well-measured response can be a great opportunity to show your followers that you care about customer service and take the time to solve peoples’ problems. Of course, there are also many instances where you’ll want to hide or delete a comment, or even ban a user from your page. You just have to feel it out. And if the comment really raises up your hackles, you may want to respond with your personal profile or invite the commenter to take the discussion offline…. do what you feel is right.
Without a doubt, exposure on Facebook that you don’t pay for, known as “organic reach,” has more value than paid reach. It’s free and it’s indicative of actual customers taking a genuine interest in your page. Organic reach and paid reach are two approaches that complement each other, and paid reach can be a powerful tool, if used properly.
On a small budget, you can adjust your marketing goals to grow your followership to your next benchmark, target a geographic population right down to a city block or mix up whom you reach, selecting by interests, income, home ownership, relationship status, ethnicity…the options are staggering.
Tips of the Trade
If you haven’t already, set up a business page on facebook.
If you have staff curating your social media content, add them as editors. Maintain ownership of the page by maintaining the admin page for yourself.
If you have multiple locations, put a trusted employee in charge of social media at each location.
Give a reasonable amount of freedom to your staff to have fun and create a personality for your page and your business. Over time, work with your social media contributors to develop the appropriate voice for your social media properties.
Consider putting your standing menu in a tab.
Include social media offers when customers “check in” at your location.
If you have one, list the link to your mobile application prominently.
Building a Social Media Ecosystem
Facebook is the granddaddy of all social media and remains a must for any business investing time and effort into social. But don’t stop there. As you learn to master the art and analytics of your Facebook page, consider foraying onto other popular platforms.
Instagram A “must have” for your tool box, this platform is all about photos. Facebook now integrates seamlessly with Instagram, and businesses can now set up campaigns through Business Manager and Ad Manager. If you neglect the power of pictures in your advertising schema, you are missing the boat.
Twitter Everyone knows Twitter, but does everyone use Twitter. To many it feels a bit scattered, sporadic and distracting. Twitter’s advertising platform is powerful and rivals Facebook’s interface. Is it a game changer for your marketing efforts? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on if you are using it well. Is it critical for PR in the 21st century? Yes. Learn Twitter to the best of your ability if your career encompasses sharing the present moment with the masses.
YouTube This ubiquitous video platform is now a verb. It’s cluttered and filled with the dregs of video humanity, but it’s also a powerful search engine in its own right. You can’t ignore it. You have to integrate with YouTube if you are a socialmedializer. Get on it, learn it, and start posting videos. Metrics tell us videos engage audiences at a much higher rate than any other form of media.
Pinterest Although many social media marketers are still struggling to understand the power of Pinterest, all you need to really know is that it is a search engine based on pictorial representation. The people out there who view Pinterest as a female-centric place to post recipes are missing the ball. Pinterest is another platform that is a must have for sharing products and services. If you are ignoring Pinterest, you are ignoring market share.
Google+ Even though it appears that Facebook has dominated G+, many new social media marketers fail to understand that Google is still the SEO grand master. If the big G sees you, then everyone can see you through simple search strategies as well.