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Some restaurants understanding social media

My hairdresser is located across the street from a large Cactus Club restaurant, part of a Canadian chain of upscale casual dining experiences. As I checked into Foursquare while getting my hair cut, the ad at right popped up on my iPhone screen.

FourSquare uses a concept of having people check into places they visit, and the one who visits most often is declared the “Mayor” of that facility. The Cactus Club clearly understands the power of talking directly with the people who use that social media environment, sending me the message simply because I was within walking distance of a Cactus Club location. Perfect! I had long been advocating that restaurants use the power of Mayorship for marketing, so I was thrilled to see that the Cactus Club was doing something with this.

The most common argument I hear about using social media is that the audience is relatively small, compared to such things as flyer drops into the community or running an ad. Yes, it’s true that there’s only one Mayor per establishment, and there may only be a few thousand FourSquare members in your city, with only a few hundred potentially in your community. So what? These are highly targeted people. They fight over becoming Mayor! When you lose a Mayorship because someone else passes you in visits, it’s a big deal for FourSquare users. Any business can gain repeat visits, and by definition, additional sales, by using this strategy. I believe that because of the nature of foodservice, restaurants can gain more than most other retail services.

The Cactus Club was offering a free gift card for whoever was mayor on a particular day, at a particular time. That’s extremely powerful, and a brilliant example of using social media marketing. I hope this is only the start of better use of social media.

Other restaurants are also starting to “get it” when it comes to the power of social media.

Morton’s gets it, too

Roger Drake, senior VP of the Morton’s steakhouse chain, explained that they make significant use of social media. One strategy they’ve applied with great success is bringing in celebrity servers for fund raising, then using Twitter to tweet their appearance. Followers on Twitter receive “inside” information that an NBA star or other celebrity will be at Morton’s, creating a buzz about the event.

Morton’s also offers Twitter followers bar bites in the bar. They encourage people to tweet from the event, to create powerful word of mouth awareness. They hold special events called “Burgers for Bloggers” where they serve mini Prime Cheeseburgers. This is great stuff!

They also use Facebook effectively. For Valentine’s Day, they asked guests on Facebook to send photos of their Valentine’s Day experience at Morton’s. “We got more than 50 photos,” said Roger. One couple got engaged in the restaurant, and this was mentioned on their Facebook page, providing powerful emotional appeal and creating a strong connection with fans. For Mother’s Day, they will have people go to the Morton’s Facebook page to post their favorite Mother’s Day Morton’s dinner photos.

It’s about relationships

When using social media, please don’t spam people. Don’t think of it as a way to stream out one-way promotional messages. Use it to create relationships. Seek out the people who post frequently on your Facebook page, and offer them special incentives. You can even make them administrators of your page, an unpaid task that can have huge rewards because these are among your most faithful guests and their voice can serve more effectively than anything you say. With Twitter you can announce special spur-of-the-moment offers, perhaps a discounted appetizer or beverage special. Have your guests mention a phrase you use in a Tweet to get special treatment, and they’ll love you for it, because you’ll be making them feel special and creating that dynamic two-way relationship.

Starbucks applied a FourSquare strategy in which they offered the mayor of any location $1 off any of their new anyway-you-like-it Frappuccino. It was a reasonable strategy in some ways, but the $1 wasn’t a big enough draw, in my view, to be significant. There’s only one mayor of any location at any given time, so it’s not like you’re giving away the keys to the store by making the offer more meaningful. A screen shot of the coupon is shown at right.

Yes, Facebook and Twitter require an ongoing, consistent effort to be successful. That’s another thing often mentioned as a negative. Why would that be that any different from any other daily task, assigned just as you assign a day chef to start your food preparation? Approached with the mindset that this is a long-term process, a consistent effort to connect with people around you, social media will have a strong impact on your sales.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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