It used to be so much easier when there were fewer opportunities to engage customers. Running a successful business has always been complicated, but the publicity side was fairly simple: advertising, traditional media, and face-to-face contact with customers.
Now there’s Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and Yelp. How do you navigate all this social media? Do you really have to participate? And if you don’t know what you’re doing or feel as though you don’t have time to do it well, is it better to opt out completely than do it poorly?
For this column, I’m going to focus on Facebook and Twitter. As a critic and a journalist, I spend a lot of time on these sites, trying to get information about the businesses I write about. I’ve seen some restaurants navigate the scary, uncharted waters of social media very well and some do it very, very poorly. So to help you figure out your own social media strategy, here are some do’s and don’ts of engaging your customers through Facebook and Twitter.
DO: Have both a Facebook and Twitter account. No, really. The universe has just handed you the most powerful marketing tool you’ve ever seen and the tool itself is completely free. I know it might be scary—“I have no idea what to Tweet!” you’ll cry. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
DON’T: Be so scared by technology that you simply opt out.
DO: Check out other restaurants’ Facebook and Twitter profiles. Do some restaurants have a ton of followers? Can you tell why? It’s helpful on Twitter to click on the “search mentions” button on a profile because it will show you how and why other people are talking about that user. See those tweets with a user saying to all her friends “Just had dinner at @restaurantX. It was fabulous!” That could be you—simply having a profile allows people to talk about you publicly, recommend you to their friends, and give feedback.
DO: Provide as much information as possible. Especially on Facebook, most people will land at your page looking for information: address, hours, phone number, etc. “But I already have a website!” you’ll say. It doesn’t matter—people can’t post stories of the wonderful meal they had on your website, and all their friends certainly can’t see that they have visited and love your restaurant. They can see all of that on Facebook. Upload as many gorgeous photos as you can. Upload menus, and post when your menu changes, detailing the new things you’re excited about. Post specials. Find something to post at least once a week.
DON’T: Set up a profile and then just let it languish without much info. People will be frustrated and come away with a bad impression if they’ve taken the time to find you and then can’t get what they need.
DO: Interact! On Twitter, follow as many people as possible in your community. See if your best customers are on there and follow them. Follow other restaurants. Follow local journalists, bloggers, and tastemakers. On Facebook, invite everyone you know to like your page. Post specials and info about events, but also jump into conversations that aren’t purely self-promotional. Social media is a space for human connection, so it gives your customers a place they can feel connected to your business on a much more personal level. Yes, post events and specials, but also post observations and positive thoughts about the day. Wish people happy birthday. Congratulate them on their successes.
DON’T: Turn nasty. Did you hear about Red Medicine in Los Angeles and how they tweeted the names of their no-shows on a recent Saturday night? Or the Amy’s Baking Company debacle in Scottsdale, Arizona, where restaurant owners went on a Facebook throwdown with customers? Both of those incidents generated a lot of buzz, but that isn’t the buzz you are looking for.
DO: Take feedback seriously, and use social media as a space where you can respond professionally to criticism. I’m not saying you should engage with everyone who throws flames your way, but if a customer uses social media to let you know they are unhappy, it’s a really great opportunity to try to make that situation right. Whatever you do, don’t get into a public sparring match, it will only make you look worse.
DON’T: Get too personal. I know a restaurant owner who published details of her divorce on her Facebook page. And others are constantly posting vain cellphone self-portraits. It’s just a turn-off. There’s a delicate balance, but think of it as how you might interact with a customer if you were checking in at their table. Would you wish them a happy anniversary and tell them about the fantastic wine dinner you have coming up? Yes. Would you whip out your cell phone and show them a sexy photo? Probably not.
There’s a reason there are so many baby pictures on social media—it’s easy to talk about things that you’re proud of. Be proud of your baby: your business. Put it out there.