21 November 2012

F&B Social Media. The Art of Being Social

Photo by HomelessHub

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. 
If you think about that, you'll do things differently. Warren Buffett

What is Social Media for the hospitality industry?

What have you heard about Social Media Marketing for restaurants? Was it, “It’s free but it’s all too hard”? They could be right, but the first thing to consider before discussing this topic is ‘What actually brings new customers through the door?’ 

If a venue has a good reputation, you don’t need to advertise it, right? Your customers come via recommendation from their friends, or after reading a positive review. That's what most assume.

Australians are skeptical of cafes or restaurants that advertise. Only 14% trust ads, but most will trust and respond to a recommendation from within their personal network. So the solution for growing your market share is to tap into opinion.

Social media marketing is the new word of mouth recommendation, amplified much further than ever before.

But if your venue is not particularly hospitable, it’s not clean and not passionately run - well, social media is just not your friend. And that’s because online opinions are like applying a magnifying glass to your operations and accountability, then spreading that to a huge audience.

So for the Hospitality Industry, Social Media is a tool for reputation management.

What to consider before using Social Media

Once you start using social networks, there is no turning back. You will need to allocate some time to read and sometimes to talk online, and for some that’s most days that your venue is open. With reputation as a key factor to your success, finding the time should be a priority.

If you choose to do it, then use social networks as a point of customer service, for inspiration and to share your enthusiasm. For venues, it is not a place to brag about how much you spent on the place, bitch, shout or even broadcast like it’s an advertisement. It’s networking in a community space, so be friendly and polite.

Consider if and how your staff use social networks? Remind them of their responsibility to the venue’s reputation in their personal interactions online. This includes the etiquette of making online comments about their employer or colleagues, not publishing confidential information or images and how they can help with customer service.

Where to begin?

Social media networks range from review sites to photo apps on smart phones, blogs and online scrapbooks. And of course about 50% of Australians stay in touch via Facebook. Most of it can be updated easily from a smart phone, so won‘t tie you to a desk.

Start by looking at the online review sites to take the pulse of your business. Act on suggestions made by public reviewers.

Consider what is the best and strongest feature of your venue? If your place was a person, what would that person sound like? What would they like to talk about? This will help you find the right social platform for you and assist in choosing the things your guests will enjoy reading about from you online.

Then decide who will be involved from your team. Behind the scenes photos are very popular and help the public develop a more interested and understanding relationship with the business. Snippets of news from certain staff can also spread the social work load.

Use platforms that link to each other that can help to economise on time spent online. For example, some platforms like Instagram and Pinterest will allow you to post a photo to other social networks at the same time. 

Hootsuite will allow you and your team to share updates to a few other social media platform accounts as well as schedule posts into the future. And you can use your phone to push notifications to you if an enquiry has been made via Facebook or Twitter. That way you can respond quickly whether there is a customer issue or a compliment.

The elephant in the room

Crisis Management is the Voldemort of Social Media. Well, until you think of online criticism as an opportunity to improve your product and to create a more loyal customer. 

They key is to be polite and to listen. That is the art of being social. 

Acknowledge both compliments and negativity with grace, publicly. If you feel the need to be combatative, take a deep breath and step away from the internet.

Most often, your loyal customers will step in on your behalf and call foul of the person who is badmouthing your business, which will circumvent your need to speak defensively.

Should you feel you are being harassed, in a calm and polite manner invite the person to speak with you offline. The reason for this is that you are leaving a trail of online footprints that will remain there for others to see and to judge long after the fact.

If you are genuine, professional and run a business that cares for its customers, then social media will be a fun way to engage positive opinions and reviews. And because magazines and newspapers surf social media to find out what’s hot, it could be a way for you to get your business into other publications.

So, can you really afford not to be social?

A version of this piece first appeared in Espresso Italiano magazine and online for Lavazza. More social media advice from me can be unlocked by Lavazza customers on that website. In the next issue, I talk about Yelp for the hospitality industry.