Wow, I can’t believe that it’s been more than two months since my last blog post. Over the last 2 1/2 months, I’ve been pretty busy with a social media strategy and implementation project for Ruby’s Diner – a 1940′s diner-based restaurant concept located primarily in Southern California – and I have neglected my blogging activities.
For my project, I had a chance to develop top-level social media strategies and participate in the day-to-day management of social media presences. There is no better way to to hone your social media skills than to roll up your sleeves and “just do it” as this process gives you a way to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t work so well.
Based on my experiences, I have come up with a list of “7 Must-Do’s” for the restaurant industry. Some of these tips are no-brainers and can be implemented immediately. Some of the other tips are bigger projects and tasks that will need to be updated and monitored on an ongoing basis. Each of these tips will contribute to what should be the social media goals of any business: expand corporate mindshare, augment and expand existing marketing channels and increase the number of customer interactions.
1. Monitor Your Brand – The first and most important part of any social media strategy is to learn and listen to what others are saying about your brand. There are many paid services to help you do this, but there are three free tools that I recommend to use as part of a listening strategy: Google Alerts, Social Mention and Twitter Searches. With Google Alerts, you can receive a daily email summarizing mentions of your brand on the internet. I find that this is not a comprehensive listing, but it is useful for a quick scan to check the noise level. For more detailed listening, I prefer to use the free Social Mention service. You can also opt to receive a daily email from Social Mention and you can filter the mentions to blogs, micro-blogs, pictures, and video to name the more popular choices. Social Mention also filters the information by day, last day, last week and several other choices. My final source for listening is Twitter search which I accomplish by using a customized Hootsuite‘s Search Column. Our strategy is to follow anyone who mentions Ruby’s Diner in a tweet, and engage with customers via Twitter where it makes sense. We also use Twitter to find out who is visiting our locations via foursquare as most foursquare users announce their presence on Twitter. I will cover what I’ve learned from foursquare in another blog post. The HootSuite Twitter search does a great job of simplifying this monitoring.
2. Google Business – claim your business locations on Google Business. Google has a free service that lets business owners claim their business and claiming a business is the first step to get recognized as a Google Favorite Place. Once you claim your location, you can edit the listing and add additional information including links and pictures to make your presence more interesting for web surfers. Plus, you can also add free announcements or coupons that will pop up when someone clicks for more information on your business. Since Google pretty much owns the Search market, their search result shows up on the top of any Google search page which makes it critical to claim and update your business page on Google. Once you claim a business (or multiple locations), there is a great dashboard that shows the number of impressions that each page has received and whether someone clicked on your website or on directions to your business.
3. Yelp – claim your business locations on Yelp. There are many consumer review sites on the Web today, but Yelp is emerging as the overall leader in this segment. If you Google your restaurant name and location, the Yelp entry for that location is probably in the top 5 of the search results. (try it – for example, type in “ruby’s diner costa mesa”). One reason for the high ranking in search results is that the URLs for Yelp include the restaurant name and location (i.e. http://www.yelp.com/biz/rubys-diner-costa-mesa-2). So if you only have time to claim and monitor one review site, Yelp is definitely the site for you. Plus, it is free to claim and customize the pages for your locations and once you claim the location, you get a special dashboard where you can monitor the number of visits your Yelp pages receive. Yelp sends an email to your business email whenever anyone reviews your location and you then have the option of replying privately or publicly to the reviewer.
4. Facebook – set up a Facebook Fan Page for your restaurant and post something on the wall every other day (at least). Unless you’ve been off the grid for the last several years, you have undoubtedly heard of Facebook. Facebook offers a great way for brands to interact with their fans and customers and maintain the buzz when customers are not in your restaurant. There are many ways to customize your Fan Page using the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) and many 3rd party applications to add to make your page more interactive. For Ruby’s, we post a lot of pictures and use the Events tab to announce local store fundraisers. We also have a customized FBML page that mimics the Email Club signup page from the Ruby’s website. The other great thing about having a Facebook Fan Page is the free insights that Facebook provides. For example, you can look at trends for interactions, active members, discussions, and mentions. Facebook also sends out a weekly email summary that includes the number of page views for the fan page. At Ruby’s, the Facebook Fan Page has been attracting about 1/3 the number of page views that the main website receives on a weekly basis.
5. Twitter – set up a Twitter account and post regularly. A good rule of thumb is to post about 5 to 10 tweets per day on Twitter account. At Ruby’s, we have used Twitter to push users to the Facebook Fan Page by linking to uploaded pictures or local store events that we posted on our Events tab. Twitter is also useful for engaging in short conversations with your customers. A best practice for corporate Twitter accounts is to include a trackable link in most of your tweets. My favorite Twitter tool is the free HootSuite Twitter Management tool which is helpful in so many ways. With HootSuite, you can automatically create trackable short URLs, schedule tweets in the future, manage multiple Twitter accounts and easily manage who you follow. The scheduling aspect is huge as it lets you maintain a high volume of activity without spending your entire day on Twitter, and it lets you spread out your tweets during the day (or on weekends when you’re not at work).
6. Wikipedia – make sure your restaurant is listed in Wikipedia. Wikipedia editors are very strict about what you can add as an article on their site – but if your brand, location or restaurant is notable, historic or has been around for many years, then you should probably be able to get your post to ‘stick’. Wikipedia will remove any obvious marketing messages or hyperbole, and really likes it when you cite external sources. As an example, check out the Ruby’s Diner page I created on Wikipedia for one way to approach a Wikipedia page.
7. Blog - my most important recommendation is to start writing a blog about your business. A blog lets you talk about yourself, tell stories and provide an in-depth behind-the-scenes look into what makes your business remarkable. Not to mention that an active blog contributes significantly to a website’s search engine presence because each new post is an additional page for the search engines to index. At one company where I did some work, the blog actually accounted for around 10% of all web traffic and that was for a blog with about 3 or 4 posts per month. On the other hand, starting a blog is a major endeavor and takes a pretty heavy commitment to do it right. For example, you should blog at least once per week and more if you have lots of information to share. A rough estimate is that it takes about 2 to 3 hours to research, write, edit and post each blog post. So, if you are doing it 2 or 3 times per week the time starts to add up. On the plus side, most restaurants have plenty of stories to tell – whether it is remarkable stories about your customers or team members, your food, your locations, new items and specials, and upcoming events – so there is plenty of content for the blog.
I will write a series of posts in the upcoming week or two that will go into more detail about how and why these seven must-do’s are necessary for your business along with tips and tricks for using them effectively.