By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert
It started with just a few words posted on the internet. Now, social media circles the globe. By 2018, it is estimated that there will be around 2.67 billion social media users around the world.
The average person spends about two hours a day using social media. That is scary — but also good news for restaurants that understand they have a very captive audience to market to. You just need to know how to reach them. To do that, we need to understand how social media is changing.
If you want to be successful in breaking through the noise in today's social media obsessed world, you need to speak their language. Times are changing, and if you want to get out of the middle (it's always too crowded in the middle anyways), then let's take a look back at the evolution of social media and the alteration of its use.
Your Parents’ Facebook
On October 24, 2003, Mark Zuckerberg had an idea for a kind of "hot or not" game for students at Harvard to compare students from rival dorms. He called it Facemash. Unfortunately, the university shut him down within days of the launch claiming it violated copyrights, breach of security, and individual privacy for stealing the student pictures (which he hacked into their dorm sites) that he used on the site.
A mere four months later in February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg relaunched a new social media platform for Harvard University students that he named theFacebook. He soon offered it to a few other "Ivy League" colleges and the site took off virtually overnight and has not stopped since.
Back then, Facebook used as text and photos to communicate. Mobile phones were not as internet-friendly as they are today, so the way to post was through a computer. We collected photos and we carefully selected which ones to share. Back then, social media was more "deliberate."
How you can maximize this platform:
- Always include a picture with a post. Our brains are wired to pick up visual cues. That why most of our ancestors avoided being eaten by wild animals. That being said, you picture has to stand out! Throw words on there that capture the emotions you wish to capture. Bam! Wow! Yes! Are all words that will invite the follower to look again.
- Increase your posts. Most people worry that posting once or twice a week is too much. It's not. Social media is like the size of the ocean and if you just post a few times a week, that would be like taking a rock, throwing it into the water and expecting a big splash. Good luck with that. You need to experiment and see what the threshold is for your demographic. You do that by pushing the limits and when you get some feedback, you push a little further than that! Don't worry if you lose a few followers along the way. Just like your brand cannot be everything to everyone, neither can your social media strategy. You want to target the center and not be as concerned with the outliers.
- Be social. Make sure to track your response rating on your page and make a conscious effort to keep it above 90 percent. Remember that the real secret to social media is to just be social. Reply when people make a comment. Wish followers “Happy Birthday” if they are friends of yours. Take the focus off yourself and more on the people that like your page!
Say Hello to the Microblog
It seems people had a thirst for smaller messages on social media and the microblog got its real push into the mainstream with the birth of a Twitter in 2006.
Twitter and other microblog sites provide a way for people to communicate quickly, share news, and connect in a very fast paced venue. With Twitter, social media took another turn as it became more on demand, and instant communication between brands and customers became the new norm. Most major brands have a presence on Twitter these days, and if you don't, it's not too late.
Wendy's has even reached national news level due to their Twitter feed. The company targets those that maybe don't have great things to say about the hamburger chain and they pretty much “roast” the person with a witty and often very clever comeback!
Twitter makes it a challenge to convey your idea in just 140 characters. For some, that is a real appeal: to condense your thought down to its bare essential elements. For years, the platform held tight to its rule of character limits until recently when it released the restriction on photo attachments and now does not count your picture in the word count. That is great news for brands that want to employ the power of visual elements to their message.
How you can maximize this platform:
- Use a graphic. Like mentioned before, a picture is worth a thousand words. Use that to let your brand stand out.
- Retweets are gold. Yes, you need to be social here, too! Check out the Twitter feeds of your followers and if you like what they post, give them a heart at the very least. A retweet is what they call the real “social currency.” When you pass along good information or a funny tweet, you get credit for being on trend or funny, as well.
- Have a persona for Twitter. You want to have an agenda and a voice for this venue. Like your menu, you cannot just be a hodgepodge of random thoughts. Keep it dialed in. If you are passionate about sustainable food sources, then follow those experts that talk on the subject, follow them, and retweet their posts. Use the “quote tweet” feature to add a few of your own words to back it up and reinforce your persona.
Is That a Picture of Your Breakfast?
For those that just like to express themselves through photos and short videos, then Instagram is the platform for you! Launched in October 2010, this platform has really found a home among users across multiple generations. Now Instagram is unique in the sense that you can only upload and share photos or videos from your mobile device. You can see them via the Internet on your computer, however, you’ll need the app to post.
Instagram’s appeal is that it’s visual and very fast. Just tap the picture twice to give it a heart (which is the same as Internet high five). They also have more than 20 different photo filters that you can apply to give your post a touch of your own style. These filters helped transform the stream of social media communication.
Instagram, along with Twitter, have become very popular with celebrities and it allows us to have behind-the-scenes access to their life and thoughts. You don’t even have to be friends with a celebrity to follow them. High-profile hospitality professionals like Danny Meyers and Wolfgang puck both use Instagram as a platform for promoting their brands. You should take advantage of promoting your brand, as well.
How you can maximize this platform:
- Show behind-the-scenes content. Take some tips from celebrities and give people an inside look into your restaurant. Use different filters to add a dramatic flair.
- Show your human side. Brands by themselves can be rather cold so you want to humanize this by showcasing your staff and the guests who frequent your restaurant.
- Have fun with it. Instagram has some couple cool video apps that can turn average video into something fun and interesting. Hyperlapse allows you to create a professional looking time-lapse video. Boomerang takes a burst of photos and weaves them together to reduce a little mini video that plays forward and backwards. Layouts allows you to make a little photo collage and multiple images to a single post. You can add from two to nine photos.
Where Are the Millennials?
If you are wondering where the new generations are hanging out on social media, you just need to head over to Snapchat. In 2016, this platform struck a chord with the millennials and Generation Z. You see social media has gone through an evolution through the years. We have gone from being selective to what we share (collectors) to an era of instant expression.
“Look how that jerk parked their car.” Snap. Take a picture and post it.
“Hey, check out these cool boots!” Click and share.
“These are the most amazing tacos in the world!” Selfie time.
Adding that Snapchat allows you to take a short video and build what is known as a “story” (each snap disappears after 24 hours), you have the hottest trend in social media. Sharing your life through video. Think of Snapchat as a messenger app on steroids!
Now, the other social media platforms are trying to catch Snapchat with the instant expression game and have all introduced live video features. Instagram recently launched their own “stories” feature (some will say it’s a direct knock-off of Snapchat), as well as an Instagram Live. Facebook and Twitter both now offer live video features. Whether you are a fan of live video or not is not the issue. The point to take home is that a big portion of your guest do like video posts. If you want to have a chance to market them to draw attention to your brand, then you are going to have to jump on the video bandwagon.
Here are some tips for breaking into video posts:
- Take the jump. With the incredible optics included on most smartphones today, you have a portable video studio right in your pocket. No need to hire a big film crew or buy equipment. Just take your phone out, hit record, and post. Boom.
- It’s not going to be perfect. The whole key to instant expression is to be authentic and a little spontaneous. Don’t try to craft out a 20-minute monologue on why you think porcinis are the king of the mushroom family.
- Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it to one topic. Remember that you’re dealing with a society plagued with a minimal attention span, so keep your videos more like small snacks .
As social media involves, we must evolve along with it. Too many restaurant owners get hung up on the past and talk about “the good old days.” Let’s face the facts that the good old days are gone and they probably were not as good as you think they were. Our minds have a twisted way of storing information. Have you ever heard someone tell story about something that happened in your thinking to yourself, “That’s not the way I remember it?” It’s okay. It happens more often than you think.
Everything changes. That is a law of nature. You can do what we do best as humans and adapt, or you can remain in a time bubble trapped in the past. It’s a new era in social media marketing. Things that worked five years ago on social media barely have any impact today. You have to constantly update your strategy and stay current with what’s hot out there. Social media works if you use it in a smart way and consistently. Video marketing is the new frontier. Those that have the courage to embrace it and use it can catapult their brand out in front of their competition.