Some Tasty Tidbits on Hospitality & Restaurant Social Media Strategies

Here’s some good insight on social media tactics for public relations professionals garnered from the recent Independent Counselors meeting of the Atlanta Chapter of PRSA… Social media is such a powerful new platform for engagement that I love to take the opportunity to meet peers and discuss strategies and also get real world feedback on what is working and what isn’t out there in the virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.

Melissa Libby of Melissa Libby Associates (MLA) was the keynote and she likes to joke that she eats and drinks for a living, but as it turns out, that’s not far from the truth. Her PR practice focuses on restaurants, and when you think about it the hospitality industry is uniquely positioned to know what works in social media to drive customer traffic and what does not. Today, restaurants live and die based on their online reputations these days and engagement is critical.

Because MLA represents a variety of restaurants from upscale to quick service, the agency has different strategies for each, and one tool that jumped out to me as relevant to most of us in PR is the concept of a “WORD BANK.” Think about it. Consumers who are 18 year old males will use different slang/terminology than the 50 year old female who is looking for Michelin star kinds of cuisine. By studying the unique vocabulary of target demographics, MLA can “bank” the words that most engage with that audience. What websites do these divergent groups frequent—what resonates with them? Put the key words relevant to them like you might use in a key word search into the WORD BANK for future reference. With only 140 characters available in Twitter, the right word choice is particularly essential.

Melissa emphasized the importance of an editorial calendar for social media, which is a key tactic that cuts across most PR planning efforts. But she told practitioners to “expect the unexpected” and to be prepared to make changes based on market conditions. She lamented a client that put out a pre-planned programmed Tweet about a dinner special right after an emergency Tweet that the restaurant would be closed that night due to bad weather. She says posting times are depending on the brand, the demographic and changing market conditions. While tools like HootSuite allow you to plan and automate posts in advance, she believes algorithms are catching up and de-emphasizing online automation. She says if you pay to boost posts, you should create momentum for the popular ones and let the less popular die a natural death—the market will tell you which ones your customers really want to hear about.

In college, many of us were trained to avoid saying “no comment” to the press, but in practice, it turns out to be the right approach for social media in some cases. Melissa believes negative comments about a restaurant in social media are best left alone. Often engaging with “trolls” or “haters” just makes the dialogue worse. If you are patient and you have a good product, your brand champion, other “real” consumers will step forward to defend you, so it’s a more authentic engagement.

One other key learning—while we may all manage giveaways to drive social media engagement, Melissa pointed out that T-Shirts seem more in demand than restaurant coupons or special offers. If you learned something, support your local chapter of PRSA. Questions, comments, ideas, I’d love to hear from you…