More than anything else, connections bring customers back to restaurants. A connection to the food, to the atmosphere, to that table in the back where you knew that this wasn’t just another first date.
Connections between people and places have also fueled the rise of social media networks. Restaurants savvy enough to use these connections to their advantage are generating more business through methods like social media engagement and customer loyalty programs.
You want to use these connections for your restaurant too, but where do you start? The tips below provide the framework, as well as a few helpful hints, for leveraging social media & customer loyalty for your business.
The first step for restaurateurs who want to build a social media presence is to take ownership of your social media pages. This includes the major networks relevant to the restaurant industry like Yelp and Facebook, as well as other channels like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube. Each page should list your restaurant’s information (address, phone number, operating hours, etc.) and include some images, as well as links to your official website and your other social media platforms.
After managing these accounts for a while, you’ll probably be able to tell which social channels are the most useful for your restaurant. LinkedIn or Google+, for example, might be less effective for gaining an online following than Instagram or Yelp.
But even if you limit your social media efforts to one or two services, it’s important to “own” your pages across as many channels as possible. Controlling your pages will ensure that users who find you in online searches see consistent information, and prevent others from claiming your branding as their own.
Letting your customers know that your restaurant is active on social media, especially Yelp, can get your online campaign off to a good start. Eventually, just about everyone has to deal with negative online reviews (more on this later) and having a few positive reviews already posted will reduce the power of a negative review.
Of course, explicitly asking customers for good reviews is tacky (and paying for reviews is a huge no-no). Instead, use a program like Yelp’s “check-ins” that include an offer or discount to give customers an incentive to review your restaurant.
Finally, spend some time integrating social media icons and links with your current branding. Announcing offers through Yelp or Facebook will encourage traffic to your social sites and help to build your following. If your efforts pay off, you might get to add one of those “People Love Us On Yelp” stickers to your front door.
Customer reward programs designed around apps or web-based platforms are making it easier than ever to integrate with social media. Connecting your restaurant’s offers to a customer’s online profile will encourage loyalty and lead to advertising opportunities as your information shows up organically on a user’s profile.
For example, tell customers that they can like your restaurant’s Facebook page to be entered into a drawing for a free gift card or gift certificate. Page likes and other social check-ins can also be linked to discount offers for their next visit. Other contests and giveaway ideas include drink and recipe contests, holiday-themed events, individualized birthday offers and more.
Consider partnering with a third-party provider to manage your loyalty program and ensure a top-notch user experience for your customers. The possibilities are wide-ranging, and you’ll need to do some research to figure out what the best fit is for your restaurant’s team, your POS, and your customer base.
Unfortunately, customers are more likely to post online about a negative experience than a positive one. All restaurants eventually face negative reviews, and ignoring them can have a noticeable impact on your business.
Since communication on social media is a two-way street, most channels will provide business owners with an opportunity to respond to criticism. Remember: your job is not to argue with the review, or tell customers why they are wrong. Instead, answer in a way that acknowledges their bad experience, and commit to improving in the future.
Responding to reviews is most impactful – and easiest – on Yelp. Their public comment function allows business owners to answer reviews directly. Yelp recommends thanking the user for the feedback, responding diplomatically, and clarifying any inaccuracies in the review. This will show customers who visit your Yelp page that you’re devoted to customer service and interested in engaging your patrons. Sometimes Yelp users even update their review to a higher rating based on these interactions.
In other words, responding to negative reviews professionally, positively, and publicly will show visitors that you are interested in engaging your audience and improving your customer experience.