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Behind the Line: Restaurants turn social media into sales

Operators refer to Facebook, Twitter, other media to find new customers

By Lauren Kramer
September 01, 2013

Mondays at 9 a.m. you’ll find Apryl DeLancey tweeting and posting to Facebook on behalf of Madison Holdings, a Seattle-based restaurant group that’s one of her clients. “We have a prescribed schedule to interact with consumers on Facebook,” says the director of social media at Blaze PR in Santa Monica, Calif. “You get a lot of reach and engagement on Monday mornings and Sundays between 4 and 6 p.m.”   

Madison Holdings in March contracted Blaze PR to handle its social media for restaurants Blue C Sushi and Boom. Prior to that the company’s social media involvement was minimal, says Richard Dalton, president of the restaurant group. “I saw a real opportunity to have our social media handled by pros who could put together a solid program, instead of us just dabbling with it in-house.”

DeLancey monitors consumer comments and complaints and uses social media to create engaging content so her audience on Facebook, Twitter and the 7,000 recipients of the company’s email newsletter will want to keep coming back. 

“Engagement has increased 300 percent for Boom and Blue C,” she says. 

It’s hard to measure the return on investment of social media, Dalton says, adding that it’s just “good business practice. Having engagement go up 300 percent is a good sign but what it brings to the bottom line, I don’t know. It’s a competitive landscape out there and we have to do everything we can to be the best organization we can be.”

As more restaurants look to social media to convey their message, companies like HipLogiq in Dallas are creating marketing software solutions to help them out. HipLogiq’s social media marketing apps, SocialCompass and SocialCentiv, match clients with potential customers on Twitter. Clients enter relevant search terms and their location and the apps comb through Twitter to find potential customers. 

“A casual-dining client might use keywords like shrimp, craving, lobster, fish,” says Bernie Perrine, CEO and co-founder. “If someone nearby tweets ‘craving surf and turf tonight,’ SocialCentiv would find it and flag it for the customer, who can tweet back directly with a special deal to draw the customer in. They could say, ‘stop by for a free California roll.’ It can be a powerful way to drive new leads.” 

HipLogiq represents a restaurant chain in San Antonio with 11 restaurants. “Though they might have community managers who manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts, those don’t identify potential new customers,” Perrine says. “We do lead capture and lead acquisition, which means we’re identifying people having conversations about date night, or eating healthy, or needing to eat gluten free. And we have a successful conversion rate for 86 percent of the people we message to. That means for every communication we have with a potential customer, 86 percent downloaded the offer. Our client is extraordinarily pleased.”

In order to download the offer potential customers must deliver their name and email address to the restaurant. “It’s much more effective and targeted than billboard advertising, radio or newspaper,” Perrine says. “With conventional advertising media you’re hoping someone will pick up the paper. We’re responding to consumers who have raised their hands, are nearby and are influential in their online presence — because we look at how many followers a Twitter account holder has.”

The software is free for small- and medium-sized businesses, which pay HipLogiq only when they respond to a conversation, when the fee becomes $2 per response. “At that point the conversation is very powerful,” he says.

Another company that’s trying to capture new leads for restaurants through social media is ConduitMobile, based in Israel, which showcased its customizable, DIY mobile application development platform at this year’s National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. Restaurants use the platform to create a custom application and mobile site, which makes it easier for customers using a mobile phone to discover and connect with them.

“Having a mobile website increases the chance that someone will find you and once they do, will be able to open your website on their phone,” says Li-at Karpel Gurwicz, director of marketing. “Unless your regular website is mobile-optimized, they wouldn’t be able to open it on their phone. Also, mobile apps enable restaurants to improve communication with their customers by sending people push notifications, offering them special loyalty-based incentives and allowing them to order food or make a reservation.” 

The apps can be “cooked to order” with the information that matters to customers, and Conduit apps also integrate seamlessly with popular social media sites, features and programs like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Yelp, Twitter, GrubHub, Seamless, OpenTable, Urban Spoon and more.

“Social media is the word-of-mouth of the 21st century,” says Dalton, adding Madison Holdings is just scratching the surface of what it hopes to accomplish through a robust social media presence. “I think we’ve made good progress from where we were just months ago, but technology is moving so quickly. There’s going to be a lot happening in the coming year as things evolve and we learn new and different ways to engage with guests, communicate with them and gather information about them.” 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia

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