No, really, what is restaurant social media for? Huge amounts of time and effort are put into company social accounts, not least within these four walls, but there’s still a lack of clarity as to what having good, active, well-curated social media accounts actually does for a business. The answer is not concrete either but depends on a few factors – where the restaurant is, who the average current customer us, what future customers you want to engage and attract and how engaged the organisation itself is with social media. So, assuming we know the answer to all of these, let’s get into it using something even the most old-school marketeer respects: the marketing funnel.

Awareness

The first stage – to become your customer, they have to know you exist and offer something they want. Social media is crowded and noisy but it’s a vital route to awareness simply because of the amount of time people spend using it. If you’re not in this space and your competitors are, you are at a disadvantage.

Consideration

So they know who you are, thanks to some beautiful Instagram posts using hashtags related to your offering and area, to get you front and centre on their newsfeeds. They even know where you are, thanks to a tactically applied Facebook advertising campaign targeting the local area. Now you need to intrigue, excite and entice them into considering you as a venue. Much restaurant social media functions at this stage, offering a flavour of the restaurant before a prospective customer ever steps through the door. It’s not enough to show beautiful pictures of your food and interior, customers are smarter than that, it’s about telling the story of who you are and why your values, ethos and offering tally with the desires of your customer base. Don’t post a picture of your new menu and say “book now for a our new menu” when you can demonstrate the craft and style which goes into everything you do. Build it, and they will come.

Conversion

This is where the tracking kicks in and most marketeers salivate – you can track the bookings which come in via social and show your boss where the value of your social media campaigns is. Well, sort of. Yes, we want people to book – nothing in this business has an end value more desirable than bums on seats and happy customers eating your food – but it’s easy to get caught up in this hard number. Remember the limitations of tracking – bookings may come from a phone call after seeing your beautiful tweet; a customer may have shared your link with their mate via whatsapp so when they click it, you can’t tell it came from your Facebook ad (the dreaded Dark Social share). In other words, value your conversions and set targets, make sure it’s not just booking you track but dwell-time on the site, downloads of your menu and other more nuanced behaviors – a better picture of your customers will soon begin to form and you can use this information to reach them with the messaging they want to see.

Loyalty

Give people a chance to engage with something they value, engage right back with them and treat them as a friend and valued member of your broader family. There is no better way to engender loyalty than to carry on the relationship after your customer has left the restaurant. For every time you wow them with your service, stunning food and amazing ambience, if they then tweet their thanks to you and you don’t tweet back, the memory will begin to sour and that repeat visit becomes less likely. Promote loyalty by being loyal right back, this is what restaurant social media can achieve which other forms of marketing don’t even approach.

Advocacy

The holy grail. Word-of-mouth recommendation, your customers actively tell others how good you are and suggest your place for that important birthday, Christmas meal or summer party. This is what it all boils down to and if you’re not on a social channel, when that request for a recommendation comes up in a Facebook post and your name is on it, people have nowhere to go to follow up. It’s not like they 100% won’t take the recommendation but you damage your chances compared to any other well-curated feeds which users may suggest.

…and finally:

One of the most important aspects of restaurant social media is the most overlooked by bottom-line focussed individuals: reputation management. If someone’s talking about you, you need to be able to talk back. Anyone with experience of Tripadvisor or Google reviews knows how pernicious and petty some customers can be so without a voice on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more, how do you respond to praise or scathing reviews? A well set-up social listening campaign is as important as active posting and being part of a community means you can influence it. This soft power is all the more vital at a time when consumers are taking more and more of their recommendation from and time on social media. Be part of the conversation, or become a victim to it.