Simple strategies make it easy for brands to build a following online.

By now you’ve heard how important social media is to your restaurant. You’ve probably created social media accounts and have attempted to create a strategy around them. Is it successful? What does it mean to be successful on social media? Focus on what matters to your restaurant. Understand the ROI of your social presence. You need to get more orders and traffic into your business. That’s the bottom line. Let’s take a look at how to use social media to boost sales for your restaurant.

Build Your Foundation

Before you do anything, you must have a solid platform to build from. There are so many social networks to choose from and so few resources to manage them all. The most important thing here is to start accounts you know you can manage. It never looks good when someone creates an account and fails to keep up with it. It’s better to have a great brand presence on one network than poor visibility on a variety of them.

Facebook is a necessity these days. With more than 1.13 billion daily active users, this is a guaranteed way to put your restaurant in front of customers’ minds. No other network boasts the same user base as Facebook. According to Facebook, every user is connected to one another by an average of 3.57 degrees of separation. This is where word-of-mouth comes into play, and as you’ve heard, that’s the strongest form of advertising.

Instagram is one of the fastest growing networks. It’s a visual network, perfect for restaurants. There are three things people will always take pictures of: themselves, a beautiful view, and food. Since Facebook’s takeover of Instagram, the network has vaulted to more than 700 million monthly users. Social media is more visual than ever. If you want to make in impact, use Instagram.

Engage with Customers and Influencers

Once you’ve built the foundation, go find your customers and influencers. An influencer is anyone your customer base listens to and trusts. Influencers are great for expanding your restaurant’s visibility and ultimately bringing customers through the door.

There are a few ways to find these influencers. They may already be following you. Use a social media management system like Hootsuite, Sprout Social, or Buffer to monitor accounts for these folks. If they’re there, you’ll know. Another way is to do your research. Look up specific hashtags on Instagram and see who surfaces. Reach out to them directly. If they’re local, invite them in and create an opportunity for them to take pictures and do what they do best.

Customer engagement is where you’ll create loyalty and community. Foster your existing relationships, engage with the people who already love your food, and spread their good word. This goes back to word-of-mouth. It’s a perfect chance to let your best advocates sell your restaurant for you. This may be the best organic way to drive foot traffic.

Contests are always good, too. If you’ve ever heard of crowdsourced content, this is how you’ll get it. Crowdsourced content is content developed and published by someone outside of you and your business. Chances are your customers are posting pictures and tagging themselves at one of your locations. Harness this trend and even expand it with a contest that generates more great posts about your restaurant. 

Drive Demand with Location-Based Advertising

Businesses used to get by without advertising on Facebook and Instagram. Now, unfortunately, the game has changed. Business pages on Facebook must pay to play. No, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for your account, but if you want to achieve ROI on social media you need to start advertising. Luckily, this doesn’t mean throwing money away. Facebook and Instagram are cheap. So, how should you spend your money?

Facebook uses a wealth of user data to provide the most robust digital advertising platform for social media. Don’t get lost in the information. Here’s a step-by-step example of what your Facebook ad targeting should look like for your restaurant to reach new customers:

  • Choose “Brand Awareness” for your objective.
  • Narrow the location to your zip code and/or surrounding zip codes.
  • If you have data to inform a customer’s age range, adjust the “Age” category. (optional)
  • Browse “Detailed Targeting” to specify demographics, interests, or behaviors of your ideal customer. Leave this blank if you want to target all Facebook users within the selected location.
  • Choose “Edit Placements” and select “Mobile Only” under device types. This keeps your cost per click down and still delivers your ad to the people most likely to see it. According to Ninth Decimal, advertisers see an 80 percent increase in store visits on the first day a mobile ad is viewed.
  • Finally, set your budget.

The most common question around social media ads is “How much should I spend?” You can answer that by setting aside a small budget for an initial test campaign. Spend $20 and see what the results are. You could then try scaling those results based on increased spending. 

Here’s an example of what your targeting should look like for existing customers, or anyone who has visited your website or location. This is a good way to promote rewards, loyalty programs, contests, and drive reservations:

  • Choose “Traffic” or “Conversions” for your objective.
    • Traffic optimizes your ads for link clicks to your website.
    • Conversions require additional steps like adding a Pixel to your site to track visitor activity.
  • Add a “Custom Audience.” Here is where you can upload an email list or retarget previous website visitors.
  • In this case, you don’t need additional targeting. What you’ve selected to this point is highly targeted.
    • If Facebook tells you the potential reach is too low, you might consider creating a Lookalike Audience. A Lookalike Audience uses the data gathered from your existing list and finds other Facebook users that fit the same criteria.
  • Set your budget.

Now it’s time to get creative. Videos always have a higher engagement rate than still images. GIFs work well, too. Try some A/B testing to figure out what messages and visuals work best. A/B tests allow you to run parallel ads that have one difference between them. This way you can measure one against the other to determine what works best. One example might be to run one ad with a photo and the other ad with a video. You might discover a funnel you can use over and over again to bring in more people.

Over time, these steps will win you more sales. Restaurants have a unique advantage on social media. People always need to eat, and you have an endless supply of visual content. It’s vital to your restaurant that you have a quality social media strategy directly tied to ROI. Lastly, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from partners that want you to succeed, such as your local chamber, restaurant trade associations, or restaurant publications, like FSR Magazine.

Expert Takes, Feature