We hit 2000 page views today, so I thought it would be a good time to thank all you readers for your support, and to talk a little bit about social networking and the restaurant industry.
As an “evangelist” of social networking, one of the ways I try to encourage those around me to participate is by telling them, “as long as people are talking about you online, you might as well join the conversation.”
Granted, there are a lot of fantastic ways to waste time on the Internet, and for restaurant owners and other foodservice operators, every minute counts. Along with the desire to join the online revolution, I think there is also a fear of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of networks, applications, widgets, blogs and tweets. (Say what?!)
Here are a few guidelines that I have used in order to stay focused and not drown in the online soup while still taking part in social networking:
First of all, social networking can improve your business, but it needs to be lightweight and easy to digest, and it needs to be sincere. For instance, if we post blogs that are just thinly disguised advertisements, visitors will see through us and they won’t take us seriously. We really just want to give people the tools they need to participate and share information. Its not about a trend or a look, it’s about functionality.
Second, there are many restaurant and foodservice industry websites that are utilizing blogs and social networking, or even just posting menus online, but they are getting a lot of play out there in cyberspace because a) their content is fresh and updated often, and so it is recognized and picked up by the search engines b) it is relevant to its readers and c) because it is easy to use and easy to share.
Here are some of the broad benefits of social networking:
- Reputation monitoring. When was the last time you Googled the name of your establishment? You might be surprised what you find.
- “Joining the conversation.” Networks provide unbiased feedback on what we’re doing well and where we could improve – they can also be a channel for business owners to communicate with customers as well as have a voice and personality online.
- Being an industry resource for expert solutions.
- Your competitors are doing it. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I looked for a restaurant in a phone book. If I can only find one sushi restaurant online that’s in my zip code, that’s the one I’m going to.
- Word of mouth. Social networking can facilitate two-way dialog in a way that replicates word of mouth on a grander scale.
- A web-based dialog for customers to interact with the brand while providing a large-scale, low-cost online focus group.
- Leveraging technology to generate user feedback.
- Driving traffic. The more activity and links that point back to your website, the easier it will be for customers (and potential champions of your brand) to find you.
- Creating brand awareness.
- Influencing purchasing decisions.
Last, here are some broad guidelines to help stay focused:
- Only participate where it is truly relevant to your product or service. You don’t have to join every network out there, but find out where your competitors and neighboring restaurants are participating, and get involved.
- Be open, honest and transparent. You want visitors to see your face, not a silhouette. Every establishment has a unique flavor and personality. Help people recognize that when the see you online.
- Accept the good with the bad. Don’t panic if you see a negative comment about your establishment online. Use it as an opportunity to respond. If someone complains that they waited 45 minutes for their food to arrive, come up with a new strategy to cut down on wait times and tell your visitors about the solution. But – also know that there is a different between malicious comments and constructive criticism, and you’re under no obligation to “suffer fools.”
- Be consistent. You don’t have to spend all of your time online to make a difference, but you do have to provide your visitors with a regular resource. If you post one blog and then disappear for months at a time, you readers will not find you reliable. However, if on the first of every month, you post just one blog, update your specials, or add some new photos, visitors will realize that you are committed, and you’ll stay at the top of their minds – as well as their search results.