I had been meaning to write a handy guide to social media for hospitality businesses (and I guess SME’s in general) for some time, but my Remedy Belfast post following their Christmas Eve PR Fail led me to think that perhaps I had left it a little too late…although judging from the arrogance shown, perhaps guidance wouldn’t have been sought anyway…
Social Media can appear a daunting task for some, in my industry especially, many owners are, shall we say, not exactly millennials. Many staff however are, some businesses are able to outsource their social media management which is grand if that’s what you think best for you, but I believe that some of these are outsourced out of fear of learning rather than a conscious business choice. There are so many tools out there to help you make the most of the mediums that in itself, the “help” can appear to leave you helpless, so this will hopefully be a cheat sheet for the uninitiated.
USE WHAT YOU HAVE
It is a safe bet that someone within your organization is clued into whats hot and what works, if you’re constantly having to tell off a staff member for being glued to their Facebook or Instagram, perhaps it’s worth asking them about it or getting them more involved with the marketing side of the business, this has an added bonus of giving them more responsibility and hopefully taking a bit more personal ownership of the business, when staff feel like they are more involved with other aspects of the business other than just their job title, they are more prone to care about their work.
WHAT DO YOU NEED
Facebook? Twitter? Google +? Instagram? Pinterest? Foursquare? Yelp? Youtube? LinkedIn? Whatsapp?
There are so many different mediums that to know which ones you should adopt is a scary choice in itself, I’ve struggled too to know which routes to take, but the answer is as true for social media as it is for many other tough choices in life, start small and grow from there. Facebook & Twitter are far and away the biggest… here are some superb statistics.
Ultimately, the single best source of information about your business should be your website, where possible on social media, one of your main goals should be to drive traffic to your website, where you have complete control over your content and message.
Social media should not just be used to promote your business, it may seem a strange concept, but if all you ever post online is your drinks offers, weekly specials or what event you have on this weekend, people will treat it as advertisements and either ignore it or unfollow you, you need to be engaging. Share content that you find interesting, your potential customers may find it interesting too. If you see something entertaining that you think your customers might like, share that, I once heard a brilliant metaphor about social media being like a party, nobody wants to stand next to the person talking about themselves all night, mix it up a bit.
You should frequently have a call to action (CTA) encouraging people to visit your website or sign up to a mailing list, maybe try and port customers from one medium to another, if they follow you on Facebook but not Twitter, every once in a while casually drop in a reference to your twitter account.
It is perfectly acceptable to use the same content on multiple platforms but not ALL the time, generally speaking, people have more than one social media platform, but there will nearly always be a preferred source. There are benefits and limitations of different platforms, you don’t necessarily need to know them all, but you should make the effort to know the ins and outs of the social media channel you use. Twitter for instance has a restrictive character limit. Each tweet can be no longer than 140 characters, is that enough to get out what you need to say? Facebook and Google+ are much more forgiving when it comes to content size, maybe even let your accounts compliment eachother, if you have something longer to say, put it on one account and drop a link into others, thus driving traffic between your channels.
WHAT PLATFORM SHOULD I USE
Facebook is the old guard of social media, with Bebo, Myspace and others falling by the way side, Facebook has continued to be at or near the front of peoples minds when they go online. It’s probably a safe bet that if you are trying to attract customers online, they have a facebook, whether or not it is their primary medium is another matter. It isn’t as easy as it used to be to attract an audience on Facebook, they have tweaked their algorithms numerous times and now what worked 2 years ago maybe won’t work anymore. You could post as often as you want but not get much traffic, it’s more about what you post and how you post it. As a business, you will need a Facebook “Page” which is a different kind of profile to a run of the mill personal page, as such you can’t just add people, they have to add you. This is where the content matters most…if all you ever post is a quick 2 word byline of what your latest offer is, I would doubt it will get much footfall, as with most mediums, be interesting, be useful. If you can post things that others will be entertained by, they may share your post, thereby opening up their friends to your post, and so on and so forth. Look to The Hudson Bar for some fantastic examples of Facebook done well.
This post is referencing the Simply Crispy cafe run by That Wee Cafe, it is a current discussion point, most people on social media seem to have an opinion on the concept, and from the figures shown under this post, it did incredibly well for them. Over 2,200 likes, nearly 200 comments and 135 shares. Yes, The Hudson will also post their latest pint offers or lunchtime food specials that won’t perform as well, but when you’re attracting this kind of traffic every once in a while, you will have a much better chance of someone coming on to your page and deciding “I like what I see, I will visit the business and spend some money there” which is really what we’re all after, you can have the best website/social media in the world but if you’re not converting views into real life customers, why are you doing it? Facebook is great to build a community around, and if you’re product is strong enough and you have existing “fans” who will champion your brand, then you’re well on your way to it working out for you. But if you only post periodically and what you post is generic/info packed with little interest to anyone who isn’t thinking “I wonder what price a burger is in X venue right now” then you’re not actually doing Facebook…you’re just trying to tick a box. Images seem to do well on Facebook, the more the better. Create an album when you put pictures online, it will drive viewers to the album page as opposed to seeing the image in the newsfeed, and clicking on an album is a new page, a new page is more advertising opportunities for Facebook, so they will ideally push your new album higher in peoples feeds than say, a 10 word post about what Rugby match is showing today. Competitions are great to attract an audience on Facebook, except there are rumoured to be some pitfalls with promoting them, it’s fine if you get good traction, but the initial “like this post and share to win” may not show up too well in peoples feeds, this is due to so many larger companies running competitions, the newsfeed algorithm will not want someones timeline to be full of competitions, so it will prioritise a similar post by a company that has paid Facebook for the featured post position. Look often at a personal Facebook timeline, yours or your staff members…see what keeps coming up and try to imitate it.
Twitter is a bit tougher to get quality engagement on if you’re not fully committed, mostly because the twitter timeline is exactly that, a timeline. If your content isn’t getting Retweeted (shared) then after it’s been online for an hour or so, it’s probably not being seen anymore, people just may not scroll down far enough in their feed to get to that long ago. Where Twitter does have a strength that Facebook doesn’t is interaction. You can follow people and you can search a lot easier than with Facebook. I recently was asked to advise a Pizza restaurant in the Belfast area how best to use social media, they were up against Dominos and Pizza Hut with their marketing budgets and tech-savvy PR staff so the “Pizza Co” wasn’t really hitting any marks online, I was asked about Search Engine Optimization and how it works and I thought “why are you thinking of that when you don’t even have much of a presence in the first place?” I started to explain twitter to the owner and his impression was that it was only for “things that go viral”… I did an experiment, where I used the Twitter search function and searched for “DOMINOS BELFAST” and naturally there were a fair few people talking about it in this area, I then searched “PIZZA BELFAST” and explained how he could, for example, reply to every single person in Belfast mentioning the word pizza, with a 5% off code, encouraging them to give his company their business, something you simply can’t do on Facebook. The ability to reach people is, in my view, greatest in Twitter. Search your area every so often, if for example you are based in Stranmillis, why would you not search “Stranmillis” and see who is regularly talking about it, follow them, maybe engage with them…
The character count can be a challenge at times, but you can get around that in a number of ways. Use Twitter to push traffic to a longer Facebook post for example, or using a service like Twitlonger, maybe put your message in an image (which isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, there are any number of free services out there) and you can really make the most of competitions on Twitter. The “Follow & RT” function is almost religiously followed by people, you can grow your online audience exponentially in a small timeframe this way, but is it quality audience? To really get the kind of audience that you can convert to customers, you should be interacting on a friendly level, treat your followers, and those you follow, like friends, or like customers already in your business, have a bit of banter, discuss current issues, ask questions… If theres an interesting subject being debated in your business or an entertaining question amongst your staff, maybe throw it out there on twitter and ask your followers for this thoughts? Again, look at Simply Crispy, many local businesses jumped on the bandwagon by merely wading into the discussion…”Who would put Prawn Cocktail crisps on a sandwich, that’s just revolting, what would your dream sarnie be?” may be enough for followers to engage and discuss with you.
Now Google+ is an interesting platform, it has it’s dedicated audience, there are people out there (almost) as fanatic about Google products as Apple fans are about Apple products, but for the most part, it is a bit less user friendly to the uninitiated than say, Facebook or Twitter. You can have the same sort of discussions as on those platforms, but the real benefit for me of Google+ is, that because it is a Google product, and the most used search engine in the world is Google…it ranks higher than some others, Facebook in fact doesn’t interact well with search engines, it has a closed window attitude, you can see the persons profile, but none of the content…Let’s use the pizza example again, if you are called “Belfast Pizza Co.” and you are constantly posting content to do with Pizza in Belfast and persistently using the words “Pizza” and “Belfast” and some of your fans or followers are also saying “I really fancy a Pizza from Belfast Pizza Co”, that should naturally help push your website higher in the Google page rank, so if you search “Belfast Pizza” maybe you’re getting nearer the top. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who has a Google+ and not a Facebook/Twitter as well though, so whether or not it is the game changer for social media it thinks it is remains to be seen…it’s definitely worth having though. In addition, you can then control what a customer could see when searching for your company on Google, if you were to search for this mythical company “Belfast Pizza Co.” (Is it a real company? Ironically, I’m too engrossed in typing to actually Google it…) the search window should have your company information, the name, address, opening hours, price range, email address and a few other useful bits of detail, you have to get into Google products to have access to this, and Google+/Google business are the key ways to control that. Yes you can engage with consumers just like other platforms, but the hidden benefits of Google+ outweigh the lower user count..
Once you have got the hang of these key platforms you can look to branch out further, have an Instagram account and post awesome pictures of your products and your venue, put relevant content onto Pinterest, videos onto Youtube. If you are a restaurant, maybe even do a compressed 6 second clip of your chef making the signature dish… There are businesses who host Google Hangouts where you can watch a live feed of a chef making a meal, showing you step by step how to recreate it, or a cocktail barman showing you how to make the perfect Apertif…there are a thousand different ways you can make the most of whats available online, you can pay for a company to do it for you, learn yourself or trust those around you to take the lead.
You can even assess the impact, using tools like Klout, Sumall, Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Hootsuite, Buffer and many many more. If you’re wondering what works, stick to one particular tactic for a set period of say, a month. Assess what impact it has had on traffic, mix it up the next month and compare…find whats right for you. If you’re letting some employees take the lead, maybe rotate who controls a platform for a month, run a staff incentive, whoever can get the most Retweets/Shares/Likes/Followers wins a prize… One suggestion I definitely think you should consider, whichever platform you choose, make sure any staff you have who are active on that site too, have it drummed into them to share/RT any activity you have, it will help to get your posts out there to a wider audience. You can even use some apps from those mentioned above, to schedule your social media posts, synchronize them between platforms and really make the most of optimizing engagement, have a play about and see what works for you.
Try not to be too controversial unless that is your MO/USP, as Remedy Belfast recently discovered, bad PR travels quicker via social media than good PR most of the time…If you see something online about your business, don’t reply straight away, sit on it for a while, do something else to take your mind off it, then come back to it. You may feel like you are having a private discussion with a disgruntled customer, you aren’t, the whole world can see it. Equally, if someone says something great about your business, don’t forget to thank them, by doing so you are helping to create champions of your business. There are people I follow on Twitter that have no business links to Coppi (A Belfast based Italian restaurant) but each week without fail, I see them mention how great it is, how much they can’t wait to go back there, sharing a picture of their latest creation…All free advertising based on the 2 pillars of Having a good product and Engaging well with their audience. I haven’t been to Coppi, but as a result of how many positive pieces I’ve seen about it, and how many pictures I’ve seen of the food on offer, it’s definitely on my hit list…not as a result of anything I’ve seen from Coppi themselves, but directly because of the social media users who think it’s incredible.
Be as useful as possible for your users, many people think that brand loyalty in the modern digital world doesn’t exist, I believe that it does, but there are so many other businesses seeking the same loyalty from the same customer base across many different mediums that you really do need to get out there and do something to show them what you’re about in the first place, create content that they will want to engage with, definitely post what your specials are or if you have an event you want to plug, that’s the main aim of it…but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re probably not getting much from it.
Create, Experiment, Engage, Explore.