How to Create an Effective Restaurant Social Media Strategy in 2018

Restaurateurs today find themselves in the midst of two major trends.

One is that people are eating out now more than ever before, from first world countries to developing nations.

The other is that, among the world’s Internet users, 2.8 billion use social media, and 84 percent of them trust online reviews as much as their friends.

Today’s biggest group of diners – millennials – embody the convergence of these two trends. Millennials are said to dine at restaurants more than any previous generation, and are also more likely to consult their online networks before making purchases.

They consider food not just as sustenance but as a form of expression, as shown on endless Instagram feeds, Pinterest boards, and vlogs.

Whether or not millennials are your main market, though, being on social media makes perfect sense in 2018 because of the sheer number of people who use these platforms.

And unlike review websites, you can control – to a certain extent – your restaurant’s image and brand via your social media pages. People can leave comments and reviews on your page, but you can turn these into constructive conversations and opportunities for building an online community.

For small businesses and first-time restaurateurs, social media also offers a way to reach customers in the same space as larger, more established chains. As of this year, there are other more than 80 million pages for small businesses on Facebook, up from 50 million in 2015.

Regardless of whether you’ve been working hard on your social media platforms for a while now, or haven’t even begun, you need to come up with a plan in the form of a restaurant social media strategy.

Although it will take a lot of groundwork, a single social media strategy can guide your online marketing efforts for several months to come, and even for an entire year or more, depending on your goals.

With a clearly defined strategy, you can clearly tie every social media activity to a goal, and address it to a specific audience. You can also use it as a basis for planning and creating your social media posts in advance.

There’s no one format for a social media strategy, but we’ve listed the essentials here. Let’s look at them in more detail.

1. Goals

Start by taking a step back from your marketing targets to look at the bigger picture: your business goals.

The end goal of your various teams, after all, is to to drive business. Of course, you would have other goals related to corporate image and community responsibility, but these can’t be achieved if the company closes due to lack of profit.

As a business owner or manager, you’d have long-term and short-term goals for the company. Your social media strategy, then, should consider both.

As a bonus, aligning your social media and business goals will help you measure the ROI of your social media activities.

Let’s take a fictitious Mexican restaurant in Singapore as an example. One of your long-term goals might be to be Singaporeans’ go-to restaurant for casual celebrations, parties, events, and fun hang-outs. If your brand would be described as a person, you’d be that warm, welcoming friend everyone goes to to have a laugh, let their hair down, and forget about their stress at work.

Your nearer-term goals might be:

1) To open one more branch within the next 12 months

2) To increase the number of private parties you host per month from three to six

3) To increase the number of diners on weekdays by at least 30%

With clear-cut goals guiding the business within the next 12 months, you’ll have a solid basis for your restaurant social media strategy.

Consider the goals of other functions in the restaurant as well. The customer service staff will have their own strategies to help the restaurant meet the goals, such as encouraging repeat customers by knowing guests’ names. Sales and marketing staff might plan midweek promos or events. Cooks might create new dishes to be served exclusively at parties.

Your social media marketing goals might thus look like this:

1) To let people living and working within [the area of the new branch] know about the branch’s opening; this will eventually lead to

a) To get people to visit the new branch

2) To increase awareness of our restaurant’s capability to host private parties; this will eventually lead to

a) To drive inquiries and bookings for parties

3) To promote weekday activities and promos

a) Here’s how you can visualize the goals:

2. Audience profile

Classic marketing strategies tell you to know your audience’s or target market’s demographics and psychographics. That still holds true today, even though different jargon may be used. Here’s what they mean.

Demographics

These features of your audience typically come in the form of numbers or short, descriptive phrases. These include:

– Age

– Sex

– Income

– Occupation

– Area of residence

– Marital status

– Family size

– Psychographics

These features describe rather than quantify your audience. They include:

– Personality

– Attitudes

– Values

– Opinions

– Interests

– Lifestyles

Most importantly, find out what needs and desires your audience have. Perhaps they need a way to de-stress in the middle of the week. Or a place to hang out regularly with friends, where they feel comfortable because the staff know their names and food preferences. Maybe they need a venue for quarterly employee retention activities or private celebrations.

Since you’re gathering this data for your restaurant social media strategy, you’ll have to include info on your audience’s online behaviours.

For example: Where do they ‘hang out’ online, and when? What do they talk about on social media? What types of social media content do they typically enjoy? What personalities do they like companies to embody online, and what turns them off? Which influencers do they follow?

How to gather audience data

It will take time to learn all this information about your audience. Over time, you might even see the need to modify your audience profile. That’s alright. The important thing is to know enough to inform your social media strategy.

You can gather this data using surveys, whether by providing diners forms after their meal or by sharing one online.

Starbucks, for example, has their POS systems randomly produce receipts that entitle a customer to a free beverage if they answer a survey online.

The survey includes questions about the customer and their experience at the store where they received the receipt. It ends with a code for claiming the free drink.

Direct methods may also do, such as interviews and focus group discussions, although these are more typically used before a business opens.

On the other hand, you can have your wait staff ask customers a couple of questions about their meal and experience upon taking their cheque.

Wait staff can also report their observations about your diners. Even complaints received to provide a picture of what some customers value and what their standards are.

Online, you can study comments people have made on your social media pages – if you’ve already set them up – as well as conversations about your brand.

Make sure you don’t violate data privacy rules, though. Each platform has its rules, and your country may have related regulations as well.

Audience segments

Once you’ve identified your audience demographics and psychographics, you’ll notice similarities among certain types of individuals. Group them together to create audience segments.

For instance, you might find that you have these types of target audience segments:

– Young families living in XXXXXXXX area

– HR staff / Employee Happiness Managers / people with similar roles in companies with XXX size

– Young professionals with monthly incomes ranging from $XXXX to $XXXXX

Write down profiles of these different audience segments based on their similarities. These profiles will be generalisations, which means they won’t account for individual quirks. They can, however, safely give you an overall idea of whom you need to reach through social media, and how.

This post from Chick-fil-A, for example, shows that they know one of their audience segments is composed of kids:

The pages ‘liked’ by Chick-fil-A – seen on the right-hand bar – confirms this. The restaurant liked some mothers’ groups. They need to convince parents to bring their children to their establishment.

3. Social channels

Which social media platform should you pour your marketing efforts into?  It can get tricky when you consider that there are around 105 social networks out there.

Don’t panic just yet. If you’ve done #2 – research on your audience – you’ll find the answer in your audience profiles.

Remember when you asked where your audience hangs out online? That’s where you should be, too. Chances are you’ll find them in one of the top 10 most-used social media platforms in the world:

1) Facebook

2) YouTube

3) WhatsApp

4) Facebook Messenger

5) WeChat

6) QQ

7) Instagram

8) Tumblr

9) QZone

10) Sina Weibo

But plastering your brand’s content across every network is not a channel plan, says Jodi Harris, Director of Editorial Content & Curation at the Content Marketing Institute.

So don’t just ride any bandwagon; ride the ones where your current and potential customers are. For instance, Tumblr may be on the list – but if your target audience doesn’t use it, you don’t need to, either.

Again, a year or two from now, you might notice a shift in trends and audience behavior. A new social media network might pop up; another might die out. Adjust your social media strategy as needed.

4. Messaging

This is where your branding, business goals, and audience profiles come together. This isn’t about the exact content you’ll create. Rather, this is a guide for the style, tone, and positioning of your messages.

You can answer two questions here: What will you say? How will you say it?

What you say

This depends on:

– The goal

– The audience

– The channel (more on that in the next section)

Are you trying to bring in people on weekdays? Try starting a campaign around the theme of breaking your workweek with chill-out Wednesdays.

And while you’re at it, share some tips on how to de-stress. That way, you’ll be adding value to your audience. You’re not talking about your restaurant, but you’re building your brand personality as a go-to friend.

The positioning of your messages would vary on your audience’s readiness to act within a certain social media platform. In marketing terms, you’ll have messages positioned for audience members at the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel.

Your research might show that your audience members are the type who make event bookings through Facebook but not through Instagram. It will then make sense for you to post more product-centred content – those talking about your capabilities for hosting parties – on Facebook.

Not that you can’t show party pictures on Instagram. You’ll just need to tweak the message to focus on audience needs, like making a Story about fun party games.

Your research might also show that an audience segment follows certain influencers. If you have the budget for it, you can use social media influencers to promote your restaurant.

Inbound marketing platform Hubspot identifies these different stages of audience readiness as the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.

Awareness

This is where the audience members become aware of their problems, needs, and desires. Think of this as top of the funnel.

Here’s an example of an awareness stage post by Scotch ‘n Sirloin Steak and Seafood Restaurant. Although it’s a blog post, it can easily be shared via social media:

Informational posts by media outlets that relate to your audience’s problem can be helpful, too.

Consideration

This is where the audience members are considering various ways to solve their problems, needs, and desires. Now, they’re in the middle of the funnel.

From the same steak and seafood restaurant, here’s a blog entry and a social media post that can help customers who are considering their options.

Even though the title mentions the restaurant, the post focuses on being informative and helpful.

Decision

This is where the audience members are evaluating different solutions. They’ve reached the bottom of the funnel.

Here are social media posts from Scotch ‘n Sirloin that target potential clients at their decision stage:

How you say it

Let your brand guide the tone of your messages. Again, here’s the fictitious Mexican restaurant’s personality:

“That warm, welcoming friend everyone goes to have a laugh, let their hair down, and forget about their stress at work.”

So give your audience something to laugh and smile about. Let them know they’re always welcome. Help them temporarily escape their worries and angst.

5. Types of Content

Now that you’ve mapped out different types of messaging to their respective audience profiles, social media channels, and funnel stages, you can get more specific about content type.

Some types of content will work across platforms, or may require only minor tweaks. Others, like Snapchat stories, may have to be highly tailored to the platform.

Type of content by platform

Let’s go back to the most widely used social media platforms and identify the types of content suitable for each:

1) Facebook – short messages, photos, videos, ads, polls, contests

2) YouTube – videos, video ads

3) WhatsApp – direct messages (individual and group chats), links, pictures, videos

4) Facebook Messenger – direct messages (individual and group chats), links, pictures, videos

5) WeChat – direct messages (individual and group chats), links, pictures, videos

6) QQ – emails

7) Instagram – pictures, picture collages, Stories (series of photos and/or videos)

8) Tumblr – blogs, photos, videos

9) QZone – ad links, microblogs

10) Sina Weibo – links, videos, live streams, photos, microblogs, campaigns, polls

Some of these marketing tools may seem new to you, like the use of Facebook messenger. Direct messaging is becoming a more useful marketing tool in 2018, though.

ManyChat, a botmaker for Messenger, provides an example of a campaign integrating a Facebook ad, a website landing page, and a Facebook direct message.

Type of content by funnel

Unlike type of content by platform, there’s really no set restriction on what type of content to use per stage. Common sense is probably the best guide — you wouldn’t show a case study to an audience in the awareness stage.

Articles, photos, and videos can be used in the three stages, depending on what their messages are.

– Awareness stage – focus on helpful, informative, and entertaining content. Mentions by influencers, such as vloggers, are helpful at this stage, too.

– Consideration stage – apart from the usual content, consider email lists, long-form content, and longer videos.

– Decision stage – here’s where you can use more materials that explain your products. You can also get creative and hold contests and polls, giving the winners a discount or a free dish as a prize.

Get creative as well. For instance, we know that live trivia apps are getting popular. If you can’t afford an advertising budget on a live trivia app, perhaps you can hold a small-scale trivia game on your Facebook page or Snapchat stream every first Friday of the month.

Some additional content tips

Make videos, even short ones. Studies show that 80% of all Internet traffic in 2019 will come from video, and that video is highly effective in converting prospects and leads into customers.

Here’s an overview of some of the videos on Bubba Gump Shrimp Co’s Facebook page. Take a look at the viewing statistics:

Use hashtags effectively. In particular, avoid spamming. Hashtags can be useful when starting campaigns, like #BreakWeek events on Wednesdays for people to take a break in the middle of the week.

Integrate offline activities with online posts. Share about your events before, while, and after they occur.

Demonstrate your staff’s efforts. Are you experimenting with new dishes, or undergoing training to improve your party service? Show customers a glimpse of these efforts – they’ll appreciate it.

Popular dimsum chain Tim Ho Wan used this strategy on its social media page:

Share user-generated content. This helps provide social proof of how people are enjoying their time at your restaurant.

Include calls to action. On Facebook, for example, a sponsored post can come with a button to make an inquiry or booking. It can even be as simple as asking the audience to comment in response to a question you’ve posted.

6. Plans for evaluation and monitoring

Keep a tab on audience feedback and sentiment, so that you can understand what part of your restaurant social media strategy works and what doesn’t.

For a start, take advantage of built-in analytics on networks like Facebook and Snapchat. Monitor comments to gauge your audiences’ sentiments.

The metrics to track depend on your goals. So let’s revisit them:

1) Goal: To let people living and working within [the area of the new branch] know about the branch’s opening

Metric:

    1. # of likes on the new branch’s page
    2. Mentions of the new restaurant

1.1. Goals: To get people to visit the new branch

Metric:

    1. # of inquiries and reservations via social media
    2. # of location ‘check-ins’
    3. Photos posted by other people of their experiences at your restaurant

2) Goal: To increase awareness of our restaurant’s capability to host private parties

Metric:

    1. % of shares on posts related to private parties

2.2. Goal: To drive inquiries and bookings for parties

Metric:

    1. # of inquiries and bookings via social media

3) Goal: To promote weekday activities and promos

Metric:

    1. # of inquiries and reservations via social media
    2. # of location ‘check-ins’
    3. Photos posted by other people of their experiences at your restaurant on weekdays

Once you’ve tracked your metrics, analyse how they have helped you meet both your social media and business goals. Identify where you fell short, and investigate the reasons. It’s good to schedule a regular review of your social media efforts, such as by producing monthly reports and holding quarterly and yearly assessments.

Once you’ve created your restaurant social media strategy, you can begin creating and scheduling posts. Use tools like social media calendars and scheduling apps to save time.

A constant effort

Remember – your restaurant social media strategy is a guide, not dogma.

Once in a while – perhaps every month, quarter, and year-end – do a review. Ask your marketing team to prepare social media progress reports to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy, as well as improve it.

Along the way, you may find that some aspects of your strategy work, while others don’t.

For example, you might find that some days and times are better than others for posting online. Or you’ll find that the majority of your target market are migrating from Facebook to Snapchat and Instagram.

It’s alright to adjust your strategy, as long you have solid data to support it.

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