Why Your Restaurant Needs Social Media

Why Your Restaurant Needs Social Media
By Dr. Gary Edwards 

Social media is a driving force in the restaurant industry. But while some restaurateurs are embracing customer-driven social media messaging with open arms, others are prohibiting diners from sharing images of their latest dining experiences.

More than a quarter of U.S. consumers have recommended a brand, product or service to a friend via social media within the last three months. Social sharing has become so popular that diners now regularly engage in “foodstagramming”—Instagramming and shooting TwitPics of dishes at their favorite eateries.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, many restaurant owners aren’t enthusiastic about diners taking pictures of their food and sharing them with legions of online followers. Describing the practice as invasive and a breach of dining etiquette, some owners are prohibiting customers from photographing food in an attempt to put a lid on the foodstagramming trend.

Trust in social recommendations is on the rise. Empathica research shows that nearly 3 out of 4 customers (72%) have used Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions, based on comments and images that have been shared by other users. So is banning foodstagramming really a smart move for restaurant owners?

Benefits of Social Media Engagement for Restaurant Owners

Consumers have a strong desire to connect with brands and other consumers via social media. As a result, restaurant brands need to proactively engage their customers through mobile and social channels rather than making it harder for customers to distribute images and mentions to their social networks.

1. Social Media Engagement Enhances Customer Experiences

The best restaurants don’t just sell food—they sell experiences. For many customers, social media is part of the appeal of dining out because it enables them to share their experiences with their online communities. So by encouraging customers to distribute images and messages about their meals, you can enhance the customer experience you offer your guests.

Social media also holds your restaurant accountable for quality and consistency. When customers are encouraged to share their experiences with others, every dish counts and your restaurant is incentivized to better understand the impact food presentation has on guests’ perceptions of food quality.

2. Social Media Engagement Improves Trust and Loyalty to the Brand

Customers reward brands that post all user-generated content online—even if it means posting negative reviews. Most restaurant owners are surprised to learn that negative reviews don’t automatically discourage consumers from trying a brand, especially if the brand has a generally positive online presence. According to Empathica research, just 26 percent of consumers avoid a brand based on a negative online review.

When you encourage guests to post images and comments about their experiences online, you demonstrate transparency and generate trust for your brand. Although it’s important to leverage technologies that allow you to monitor and respond to negative mentions, the credibility your restaurant gains from publishing all reviews outweighs the damage caused by the occasional negative comment. Negative commentary is also a pool of information that can lead to changes to improve theexperience a brand delivers. Acting on the trends uncovered by this feedback shows that a brand is listening and customers will recognize this

3. Social Media Engagement Drives Brand Advocacy

Any customer who is willing to capture an image of their meal and distribute it to followers online is a potential brand advocate. As a restaurant owner, it’s your job to empower brand advocates and develop strategies to amplify their messages.

Customer surveys and social engagement are important in identifying positive customer messages and recruiting advocates to your brand. But to maximize the impact of advocacy, consider implementing a solution that embeds a real-time advocacy feed on your restaurant homepage or Facebook page.

Foodstagramming and other social media trends can be intimidating because they force you to relinquish control of messaging. But by properly managing the customer experience and embracing social media engagement, you can substantially increase the amount of positive social buzz about your restaurant.

Dr. Gary Edwards is Chief Customer Officer of Empathica. He is responsible for oversight of sales, marketing, client strategy, marketing science and retail insights. Gary has served a key leadership role during program development, implementation, and follow-up with clients for the past eight years at Empathica. His prior experience includes serving as a Senior Vice President at Maritz: Thompson Lightstone and an account executive in the then newly formed Financial Services Research Group.
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