Restaurants thrive on repeat business. To get and keep business, many entrepreneurs are asking: what is the key to restaurants using social media successfully? According to a paper by Northeastern marketing professor Koen Pauwels, published recently in the Journal of Marketing, businesses can boost purchase intent as much as 6 percent if they focus social media efforts on earned media. Translation: focus on building your brand following. That could mean any marketing tool that boosts the number of Facebook “likes” or Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube followers. Known as engagement, interactive communication between current and potential customers and your business is important, but sales are driven by increasing earned social media. These days, what does it take for restaurants to use social media successfully? Let’s take a look at some restaurants that are flourishing in the earned media space.
On the scale of restaurants using social media successfully, Wendy’s might be the biggest with millions of followers on social. Despite their size, Wendy’s keeps it real on social media by persistently responding to any customer concern or complaint posted to their social media page. A customer recently posted about a difficult situation she encountered at her local Wendy’s. The social media team responded within the day, asking the customer to email their service team directly “so we can have someone reach out to make it up to you.” And when they’re not dealing with customer complaints, they’re reinforcing their brand, posting new menu items or promotions with pops of brand colors (that red!) and on-target visuals (Wendy herself!) and reminding fans of their core marketing message, “fresh beef.”
According to their tagline, Modern Market serves up health and happiness. The restaurant zeroes in on tasty foods that leave you feeling great, like bright, summery salads and better-for-you pizza. But the real traction comes from Instagram Stories, short videos that last for 24 hours on an Instagram profile. The chain recently expanded their local reach with a single story. The Story tied the opening of their Austin store to a giveaway of meals for a year for two Austin, Texas, residents. The Story’s reach went far beyond their followers and expanded comments from the single digits to thousands.
Kane’s Donuts is active on social but the Boston-based shop went full on for this year’s Super Bowl, posting pictures of doughnuts decorated with Patriots colors and even took on a Philadelphia doughnut shop in a friendly war, garnering hundreds of likes for each post. But their reach spiked into the thousands with a recent Valentine’s Day contest, where customers were asked to like the page, tag three friends, and share the post. On Facebook, that engagement meant the post stays in front of a larger audience for a longer time, spiking engagement even further.
There’s a reason food porn sells on social. Food. Looks. Good. Food trucks, like the one run by Yeastie Boys Bagels, need a loyal social-media following so fans can track down where their trucks are parked. Yeastie Boys limits their social posts to bagel porn. They call their bagels “L.A. style” and the images of thick bagels stuffed with eggs or bacon and oozing cheese are food porn at its finest. Hashtags let followers know where they are (#DTLA) and business hours are also posted. Yeastie Boys follows through on Facebook, posting daily hours and location. The occasional spoof (Kim Jong Il reading “Fire and Fury” or photos of the owners) is thrown in to keep you guessing.
Cookies are ideal social media fodder. CREAM (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me) has shops in California, Nevada, Colorado, and Florida to sell its ice cream sandwiches. On Instagram, they keep the colors bright and the iconography simple, stacking rainbow-hued sandwiches one atop the other. Promotions like a cookie giveaways, for purchase of gift cards, are tagged for their followers (#12daysofCREAM #5GoldenRings #OurGiftCardsAreGolden), creating new, clickable content.
Images of melting cheese on social media are clickbait and The Melt knows it. Instagram Stories, those mini-videos that disappear after 24 hours, are made for companies like The Melt with social media-ready products. Nothing grabs people’s attention nearly as much as “the pull,” when cheese stretches from the plate of mac and cheese or a gooey sandwich. It’s a great visual. While The Melt attracts plenty of clicks for its static content, it quadruples its engagement with “pulls” in its daily visual story.
Different strategies can reinforce brand messaging on social media. Nékter Juice Bar changes their color palate monthly, pairing their brand color with a seasonal color to support their messaging of “it’s more than just juice, it’s a healthy lifestyle.” A hashtag with their brand (#livethenekterlife) helps them attract hundreds of likes per post.
Dig Inn garners hundreds of clicks for its gorgeous food photography. Images of their food are a central component of their social media feed. Pictures of their farmer partners in the field and iconic images of New York and Boston in winter round out the visual offerings. All those recognizable images help to make this East Coast brand relatable and cozy. Even better, their social media reinforces their social-awareness brand message.
Sweetgreen’s salad concept stands apart because the chain works with a professional photographer to make their salads look their best. The chain works with photographer Allison Zaucha and cross-promotes to her followers to convey Sweetgreen’s message of social consciousness as well as to relay their brand message: “building healthier communities by connecting people to real food.” That means plenty of images of the food but also fun snaps of staff and farmers. Their efforts typically yield thousands of likes per post. Why? The messaging is meaningful to their fans.
Social media can be punny. Really punny. Puns (wing it on) and a playful sort of social consciousness (Friends. Family. Foes. All are welcome here.) play a big role on social for Buffalo Wild Wings. Their playful language results in regular engagement in the thousands. But throw in a coupon like this company does, and likes and shares quintuple.
Sometimes a straight-forward strategy is the best strategy. Many Olive Garden franchises have their own pages on Facebook to promote local events and specials. The corporate site keeps it honest with photos of food and drinks from the current menu. A recent post introducing spiralized noodles made of veggies helped boost engagement from the tens to the hundreds and shares from the hundreds to the thousands.
Outback Steakhouse uses their social media presence to feature menu items. The Bloomin’ Onion makes regular appearances. As with other brands, Outback’s engagement goes way up on Instagram Stories, like this one, where the Big Aussie Bloom seems to grow in size. It works to demonstrate how satisfying the dish is.
Sarcasm can be an effective social media messaging strategy. Whataburger earns thousands of likes on Instagram with sarcastic messaging and pictures of actual customers eating in their restaurants. Most tags from followers are reposts to their friends’ Instagram accounts, boosting engagement.
Stacked sandwiches are the sandwich-restaurant equivalent of the ooey-gooey cheese pull. When Which Wich introduced its paleo Italian Grinder Lettucewich, engagement tripled. Why? Hashtags #keto #lowcarb #nocarb are designed to attract the audience this sandwich is designed for. Images of stacked sandwich halves sealed the deal. (A little food porn always helps on social.)
If in doubt, promote. Proving once again that promotions rule the social media landscape, a giveaway of a backpack stuffed with goodies, including a $100 gift card for Shake Shack, meant that fans had to tag friends and share the post for a chance to win. The bonus for Shake Shack? Quadruple the usual engagement and comments in the thousands rather than the tens.
Using multiple strategies — brand color and food porn, for example — can be an effective on social. Egg Slut keeps it simple showing mostly posts of its egg sandwiches within a color palate of its brand’s bright yellow. Fans of this iconic Los Angeles restaurant faithfully repost and share.
Like giveaways, specials can get people talking on social. Bringing back an iconic sandwich, the PB&J, got people sharing on Potbelly’s Instagram. In addition to the PB&J, the company regularly posts pictures of seasonal features and sandwiches but this simple sandwich (peanut butter!) drew far more than the usual number of likes and comments.
Curating content from your customers makes those customers happy. And satisfied. Perhaps knowing this, Pieology’s Instagram page is populated with photos curated from their customers. This post, reshared with the promo of Unlimited Toppings, got people talking.
It is okay to ask customers to engage. Chipotle Mexican Grill mostly features food shots but what set this one apart was the appeal to engage. Fans were asked to tag someone they would share a bowl with and they did, boosting engagement from the low single digits to the high triple digits.
Got a popular dish? Show it off on social! Orange Chicken at Panda Express gets some love in this Instagram Story. Promoting the restaurant chain’s most popular dish reminded people how much they enjoy eating at this restaurant and pushed engagement numbers up from the low thousands to the high thousands.
Engagement can be a tricky thing. As we explored in this article looking at engagement in the workplace, engagement requires a consistent effort while also keeping things fresh and interesting, thereby giving your audience (and employees) a reason to communicate and engage with your content and your brand. The restaurants using social media successfully us their channels not only to promote their product and reinforce their brand but to give their fans and followers something to get excited about. Oftentimes, that is a coupon or other giveaway but sometimes it is a new product or just a reminder of how great their customers are.
Has business slowed down? Promote your catering business.