In a world saturated by advertising on radio and television, at billboards and bus stops, and in newspapers and on the Internet, would it surprise you to learn the most effective restaurant social media marketing plan is … none of the above?
By a wide margin, the most trusted forms of advertising available to businesses today are recommendations from family, friends, and acquaintances — online and off. In a comprehensive study by Nielsen, 83 percent of respondents indicated they trusted word of mouth over all other forms of advertising. Word of mouth extends beyond family and friends —66 percent of global respondents said they trust online consumer opinions, making online reviews the third-most-trusted advertising format.
We live our lives online.
It’s true, isn’t it? With every old friend we keep in touch with over Facebook and holiday season shopping completed with a click of the button, it gets harder to remember what it was like to not have the Internet at our fingertips every moment of the day. We make friends, go on dates, run businesses, and publish books, all with the aid of a world wide web connecting us with people near and far.
But restaurants and bars are not online chat rooms. You run a real physical space that needs people to show up (or, at the very least, order non-virtual food and beverage from) in order to survive, much less thrive. The challenge becomes how to make the best use of the virtual world to support your restaurant social media marketing plan in the real one. How do you reach customers online and transition them into customers walking through your doors and sitting down for a meal?
Word of mouth still talks.
When it comes to online word of mouth, social media and restaurant rating sites can be your best friends — or your worst enemies.
“Technology plays a huge role,” says Arezou Hooshiarnejad, marketing manager and event coordinator of Rewards Network program restaurant Darya Restaurant in Santa Ana, CA. “That’s how people get connected. How they find out about things that are happening in their area, the restaurants, and what specials they have. Before it was just word of mouth. Now it’s on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Social media has expanded that word of mouth.”
And Hooshiarnejad has taken full advantage of great online word of mouth for Darya Restaurant by developing a responsively designed website. Building out an easily accessible website presence accommodates mobile customers and their need to have information right when it’s most pertinent and wanted, supporting the core of her restaurant social media marketing plan.
“Everything is now done with electronics for convenience. Customers don’t want to wait until they get to their home or office,” Hooshiarnejad continues. “They can just go onto their phone and find us and order.”
Being easy to find (and interact with) is only half the battle, however.
Maintaining a positive online presence can be as important as customer service inside your restaurant. Because for your guests, the experience doesn’t end when they pay the check and walk out anymore. In fact, it may even begin long before they’ve ever set foot in your establishment.
Who watches the watchmen?
The prevalence of review sites and message boards like Yelp and eat24, GrubHub, Eater, and TripAdvisor has changed the landscape for restaurant-goers significantly in recent years. Whether through Google or a mobile app, anyone can find consumer comments about your restaurant at a moment’s notice. And like much of Internet commentary, it’s not always pretty.
Every restaurateur has heard the horror stories about customers leaving bad Yelp reviews and the subsequent responses from the aggrieved owners. No one likes to hear bad things about themselves, and particularly not about the business they have put blood, sweat, tears, and money into devising a restaurant social media marketing plan for.
But consumer dialogue is part of the reality behind having a business open to the public. If you’re doing your job right and providing the best food and service you can, the occasional bad review will be a learning experience and not a major problem. The problem comes when one side or the other is no longer being truthful.
In reality, most online comments and reviews of your restaurant are going to have the ability to remain anonymous, to one degree or another. Guests may not use their real name or photo in association with their comment. They may even have multiple accounts and review your restaurant under different user names.
Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor really have no way of protecting against vendetta reviewing (or alternatively, competitors stuffing their ballot box with positive reviews) in an online environment that prioritizes free access and anonymity.
Who can you trust?
Anonymity was one of the dilemmas Rewards Network had while developing its customer review system, and the solution became one of our biggest selling points for restaurants looking for constructive feedback and a better restaurant social media marketing plan.
When a restaurant joins Rewards Network, our members are encouraged to leave a review after every visit to that establishment. To all outward appearances, the reviews are anonymous, represented only by the first and last initial of the member’s name and their city and state. It gives consumers concerned about their online presence — and potential exposure to online abuse — assurance of their safety and confidentiality. Some choose to publish publicly on our network of program websites, and some opt to have their comments shared only with the restaurant.
But the difference between this and other review sites is that every Rewards Network review is tied to a specific visit to your restaurant. Only diners who have actually paid a check that results in rewards from one of our many loyalty dining programs can leave that feedback.
And that verified feedback can be invaluable to your business. Rewards Network members are typically high earners and big spenders, driving over half a billion dollars a year to our network of restaurants nationwide. As social influencers, our members have contributed more than 17 million reviews to the conversation online — powerful word of mouth you not only can trust but also learn from to make valuable improvements to your business and its restaurant social media marketing plan.
It was word of mouth too good for Hooshiarnejad to pass up.
“We utilize the data to better ourselves. I share it with management and management is aware of what’s happening. All of the reviews are shared monthly in management and employee meetings. If they’re doing a good job, good for them, but we always want to do better. And if there’s something that needs to be addressed then we address it.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to bring in new faces, new eyes, and new palates. Rewards Network is helping to promote us. [Members] find us through the website. Because of Rewards Network, we get all of these great rewards members.
“The more accessibility, the more of a presence you have, the more easily you’ll be able to be found.”
Want more information on how Rewards Network guarantees customer feedback is genuine?