User-generated content is a great way to keep your social media feeds fresh and authentic. Discover how your restaurant can promote your brand by harnessing the images your customers share.
When today’s consumers need help making up their minds about where to go for dinner, their first stop is often social media. Between the endless supply of photos posted by previous restaurant guests and the glut of customer reviews, the decision is as good as made.
It’s no wonder today’s restaurants prioritize social media. TripAdvisor’s 2017 Restaurant Marketing Study shows social media is now the number one form of marketing among US restaurants. 82 percent invest in a channel, which includes everything from promoted tweets to paying Facebook to boost your latest post. According to TripAdvisor, 60 percent of restaurant-goers take online photos into consideration when deciding where to eat. So, uploading images of your restaurant decor and menu items can have a direct impact on your bottom line.
But paid social media isn’t the only way to reach current and potential customers. User-generated content (UGC) in the form of images, videos, and reviews conveys valuable information about what a diner can expect from a locale. UGC also serves as free advertising for featured restaurants. User content helps brands cultivate a loyal online community of followers, and also drives foot traffic to restaurants.
Here’s how restaurant brands are using UGC and why it works so well.
Image via leungchopan.
The user-generated content found on social media generally takes two forms. UGC can be paid posts created by social influencers specifically for brands, as well as content created by everyday users that brands re-post on their own social media accounts. Viewers can find both on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. But, in the restaurant industry, Instagram is the grade A choice.
Now boasting 1 billion users worldwide, the Facebook-owned social media app has earned its place in the restaurant marketing mix. Research shows that millennials spend the equivalent of five days a year browsing images of food on Instagram, and 30 percent of these consumers say they would “avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.”
Justin Nartowicz, an account manager with Tampa, FL-based digital marketing firm The Go! Agency, considers the type of user-generated posts found on Instagram “invaluable” to brands. He says the authenticity associated with UGC can help you establish a lasting connection with your customers. “It humanizes a brand and allows other users to shine a light on what (you’re) doing well,” Nartowicz explains. “Your social media posts might already showcase your best dishes and specials, and you might mention your friendly waitstaff, but a post from a patron that says they received excellent service or that describes in detail just how great your Chicken Carbonara is proves it.”
Consumers who “truly believe” in the brand are often responsible for that restaurant’s best social content, Nartowicz says. When a customer’s voice is that confident, it reassures prospective guests that they’re making a smart choice. This is true whether those customers are everyday fans or social media influencers with a large number of followers, and explains why chains like Wendy’s and McDonald’s have enlisted the help of influencers. Steakhouse Boston Chops went so far as to set up a special table with adjustable lighting so visiting social influencers could snap an appealing shot of their meal.
That said, there’s something particularly appealing about content created by the average joe. It’s also more likely to be perceived as genuine. Upscale Naples, FL restaurant Campiello — owned by restaurant group D’Amico and Partners — regularly shares this type of content on its Instagram page. Malory Vague, director of communications and content with Roepke Public Relations, manages the page.
“A lot of times when we take food photos for social media or advertising we’re very focused on making the plate and garnish look perfect,” Vague says, “but when we repost a user image it’s like saying ‘this dish really does look this good.’ It’s clear we’re not staging it. If a user’s caption emphasizes how good the dish tastes, we’ll often re-use that too. These are people who are genuinely enjoying their experience,” she adds, “and we want to share that with guests.”
When employing user-generated content, there are a couple of rules that restaurants should follow. If a social influencer creates content for you, indicate your brand sponsored or paid for the content by using a hashtag like #sponsored or #ad. Abiding by the Federal Trade Commission’s influencer advertising requirements will ensure your followers know the endorsement was paid for by a brand.
If you’re sharing existing user content, always credit the creator. Simply including their social media handle when you retweet or repost is enough. Giving credit where credit is due isn’t just good manners, it also demonstrates how much you value your customers.
Capitalizing on Customer Reviews
Image via Dusan Petkovic.
Customer reviews represent a secondary research resource for restaurant goers. They’re also another means by which restaurant marketers can maximize their exposure online. Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, and Facebook provide an opportunity for brands to cultivate a collection of positive reviews. These reviews can attract new customers for months and even years to come. According to TripAdvisor’s survey data, 94 percent of US consumers say that online reviews influence their dining decisions.
“Testimonials work,” Nartowicz says. “With so many aspects of our daily lives now digitized, it’s important to never forget about word of mouth.” For his clients, Nartowicz regularly harvests customer reviews and incorporates them into marketing materials and ads. “For the modern-day restaurant, Yelp is the beating heart,” he says.
Comments left by customers on a brand’s Facebook page can serve a similar purpose. They also go a long way toward building that restaurant’s reputation. Vague makes a point of interacting with Campiello’s Facebook followers. She checks the site at least once daily and thanks guests for their feedback and for sharing their experiences. Over the past few years on Facebook she’s noticed a trend toward engaging with the brand’s social media posts in lieu of leaving a traditional customer review. “I see a lot of people commenting on photos, asking questions about the cocktail we’ve posted,” she says. “Customers seem to enjoy sharing their opinion of a dish they’ve tasted in this way.”
The impact social media has had on the restaurant industry is undeniable. But, don’t overlook the role of user-generated content in that mix. Customer photos and reviews can boost your brand’s image and fill up your tables, too.
Top image via Dmitry Galaganov.
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