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Managing Your Online & Social Media Presence

By Joe Gabriel, Fishbowl Marketing

From chef to manager, bookkeeper to plumber, restaurateurs wear many hats in their business. As their roles continue to expand within the restaurant, operators’ most valuable commodity becomes their time: an increasingly shrinking commodity, at that. In today’s ever-changing landscape, restaurateurs now have to add another title to their resume: “Online Marketer.” The explosion of social media and online solutions provide a fantastic opportunity for restaurants to engage their guests and grow loyalty and sales. The challenge lies now in the questions of “what should I be doing,” “how should I be doing it,” and “who should be doing it?” The answer is as simple as putting together a recipe book, with 5 easy steps to accomplish success in managing your online presence.

Ingredient 1: Claim Your Online Presence

It is easy to get lost in the confusing online marketing landscape. The key is to keep it simple. Focus on two main areas: Presence and Engagement. There is a lot of information on the web regarding your business, whether you have placed it there or not. Make sure that you take ownership of your online presence by developing or claiming your own page on sites such as Google, Bing, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Trip Advisor. Each site has very easy to follow instructions to claim your business and ensure that all of your restaurant’s information is accurate. Claiming your presence on these sites will make your business easier to find in the search engines and will help potential new guests find you.

Ingredient 2: Manage Your Online Presence

Now that you have claimed your presence online, it is vital to make sure you allocate resources to continue to monitor or manage your online pages. Your online reputation is the first thing that potential customers view to help them decide whether to frequent your restaurant or not. The first thing to establish to help you streamline this is opening an account with an application such as HootSuite or Fishbowl’s Social Media Publishing. These applications will allow you to stream all of your social media sites into one easy to view page, so you can monitor and respond to guest comments on all your social media sites from one central platform. Next, take the time to pay attention to the reviews on sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Zagat. Most of these reviews will be positive, but it is how you respond to the negative ones that will strengthen your relationship with your guests.

Ingredient 3: Build Your Online Audience

Building an online marketing database today is imperative. Without it, you will fall behind the crowd for sure. The power of our marketing message now belongs to the consumer, so establishing a strong permission-based database is the key to gaining a positive return on investment for your restaurant. The core constant that all consumers must have to participate in all of their social media and online activities is an email address. Build your email list with in-store enrollment tactics, fully educating your staff on the importance of capturing email addresses. Build your following online as well, on Facebook and Twitter. Offer incentives and promotions to gain “Likes” and “Followers” that will eventually also enroll in your e-club. Don’t forget to integrate solutions like online ordering and OpenTable. Your goal is to funnel all of the guest data online from all of your sources into one clean, easy-to-access database.

Ingredient 4: Engage Your Online Audience

Now the fun begins. You have built your online presence and developed a viable online database. Now is the time to start engaging your guests to build guest loyalty and increase their frequency in your restaurant. Start with loyalty communications, thanking those most loyal guests for their patronage by offering VIP experiences and targeted communications on key events such as birthdays and anniversaries. Plan on one to two promotions via email a month, focusing on guest appreciation, not just discounts. Use Facebook and Twitter for your daily guest engagement. Offer trivia contests, witty commentary, and live event information. Have fun with it: don’t be boring.

Ingredient 5: Keep Score of Your Online Campaigns

Just like a new menu item that you keep track to see how it sells, the same concept applies here. When you launch a promotion or campaign to your online database, keep tabs on the results. Track the number of messages sent, offers redeemed, cost of campaign, discounts, and of course, net sales. Then report back to your staff about the success of the campaigns, which further their confidence in helping you build your database.

By investing some time and energy in establishing your online presence, you will set your restaurant up for a successful run during this social media era. Plan on 4-5 hours per week at the start, which should settle down to 2-3 hours per week once you have your presence established.