Master the mix of social media

24 December 2012 by
Master the mix of social media

The Caterer and Hotelkeeper Innovative Marketing in Hospitality conference sought to explore how to get maximum reach with minimal impact on your budget. James Stagg reports

With social media now a mainstay of the marketing mix, online recommendation and customer feedback dominated discussion at Caterer and Hotelkeeper's second Innovative Marketing in Hospitality conference.

Talk inevitably quickly turned to the power of Twitter and Facebook, particularly as a free means of engaging with consumers. Digital marketing expert Karen Fewell said any operator, no matter their size, could compete in the new business landscape. "It's not about who has the most money, it's about who's the most clever," she said.

Delegates heard how restaurateurs, hoteliers and contract caterers were increasing their reach through social media, mobile marketing, and offer sites.

However, despite the greater number of ways to communicate, Elliott marketing chief executive Ann Elliott said we should still look to the lessons of the past to inform the future. "When I'm asked what is the next big thing, to me it's the old thing," she said. "Which is delivering a customer experience that is second to none. Social media is only designed to get the customer over the threshold once to experience that fantastic level of hospitality. You have to consistently deliver that experience."

Paul Goodale, director of restaurants at Harrods, said there had been an exponential interested in food in the UK, fuelling the foodie phenomenon. He added: "We're on the cusp of a revolution where we could lead the world in the same way we have with other soft media (commentary, entertainment, arts and lifestyle). We have unique businesses and unique people working in branded restaurants across the country with a skills set that we can export as the economy grows."

Marketing had been turned on its head by social media such as Twitter, said London restaurateur Jamie Barber, who owns Hush and Cabana (below).

He told the audience that Twitter was the most exciting tool the trade had seen, and had redefined how restaurateurs approach marketing.

"Here are the truths about strategy, marketing and the big ideas: strategy is dead, the big idea is dead and marketing as we know it at the moment is buggered," he said.

"We live in a world where billions of people are connecting to each other and other brands with no exchange of money at all. No one knows what is going on and the longer you sit down and devise strategies the longer you're giving your competitors to steal your customers."

Barber said that marketing was now about lots of small ideas distributed through social media that could be turned into big ideas by the people that interact with them.

"That's why I think that marketing the way we know it is dead," he said. "Sticky is not important, it's all about viral. All you need is to seed lots of nuggets and watch them grow. It costs nothing except time."

When Cabana puts on special events, such as the ribstock cook-off, it "tweets the hell out of it" Barber said. As a result the restaurant gets thousands of advocates and sells out events extremely quickly.

"One thing we did was to teach a whole load of food bloggers how to make pastels, which are Brazilian pastries stuffed with cheese," he added. "We got them a little bit pissed and they tweeted the hell out of it. Those were retweeted and suddenly everyone was interested in the pastels."

At Hush, another initiative Barber introduced was a menu paired with a particular spirit. "We put it out on Twitter and found people interested in gin and vodka pairings and they came, and they brought new people," he explained. "This type of idea injects new life into brands you think are stable and mature and unlikely to attract new people."

Being local restaurants with a focus on front of house service, Sam's in Chiswick and Harrison's in Balham keep in contact with regular guests through social media to explain new offers, ask for comments on menu planning and smooth over any issues.

He said that the ethos of the restaurants was generosity of spirit, which was transferred to their online presence in the way they dealt with customers, complaints and feedback.

In the case of feedback it means the restaurants are often able to respond well ahead of the 12-hour target Harrison sets.

"There is a kind of unwritten rule that people aren't that negative on Twitter. But you have the opportunity to win them round even if they do comment. Online you can now respond instantly and have the opportunity for wow factor," he said.

"I was once running brunch service in Balham when a regular at Sam's tweeted to say he loved the restaurant but service was a bit slow. I saw the message, was able to phone the restaurant and within five minutes the restaurant manager was offering him a cocktail from me. That guy now is almost embarrassed whenever I see him because we reacted so quickly."

Despite the ability for anyone to make comment on a business, Harrison said that social media had actually enabled him to take some control over reviews.

"Now we can control openings a bit better as you can interact with critics online and build up interest and control pre-opening. We can build up interest on Twitter and invite guest for a soft launch through social media.

"There is a fantastic ability to interact, generate excitement, affect what people are saying about you and tell a story before it happens. For example at Harrison's in Balham we have a private bar downstairs that we're about to relaunch as a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge. I'm already generating interest on Twitter and Facebook. At no cost we're generating buzz and excitement."

Meanwhile, a social media presence establishes a personality for a restaurant, which can be expanded upon in a blog.

Harrison explained: "Our chef can talk about his passions, suppliers that he's working with; and our restaurant manager can talk about a day in the life of a restaurant manager. Hopefully it makes us stand out as something a bit different."

â- Brilliant referral mechanism
â- Ability to interact and generate interest/ excitement
â- Personal contact - good and bad - both lead to loyalty
â- Answering and asking questions

Ann Elliott, chief executive, Elliott Marketing
â- They're only as loyal as the last great experience. If it's not as good as last time they won't return.
â- Be honest. Customers are savvy, don't take the mickey. They understand they hand over their data for offers. If they receive nothing in return they will go elsewhere.
â- Guests expect to hear from operators across all channels. They don't think in terms of social media. It's just another means of communication.
â- They want value. Whether rich or poor they want value for money. Discounting doesn't devalue a brand; offering a poor service does.

The immediacy of social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook means that they are wonderful ways to distribute a message quickly, but that they also require almost constant attention. So, to ensure their brands are interacting as much as possible, some restaurateurs employ outside agencies to represent their businesses.

Ben Fordham (above), owner of four-strong Mexican group Benito's Hat, said that outsourcing discrete projects, such as regular social media promotions, allowed him to focus on the day job. "By outsourcing we've been able to build our social media following," he said. "If you want to have a personality that grows, you need to engage with other people and not just reply to those that speak to you. 
It's about keeping the interaction alive."

Sam Harrison agreed that being the voice of the company could be all-consuming. He said: "So far our online presence has been very much driven by me. But it began to frustrate me because, although I love that personal interaction, if I manage to take off one day in a week or a fortnight and I have 10 people sending me nice tweets, by my rules if I'm not interacting with them I'm falling short."

Like Fordham, Harrison has enlisted an agency to help develop a comprehensive online strategy and measure how successful his interaction is.

Both warned that, though this does take the full time burden off your hands, it still needs to be handled by someone who understands the personality of an operation to keep the continuity of communication.

Fordham added: "With complaints, however many restaurants we get to, I can't see my handing that over to someone else. When things have gone wrong I want to know, respond quickly and take that conversation in the right direction. You need to retain the ability to turn a negative into a positive."

The role of the agency for Fordham and Harrison is to come up with some fun ideas that complement the brand, as well as offer technical expertise.

"For example we run a #mexicanwave hashtag every Friday, where we encourage people to retweet and at the end of it we pick a winner of a meal for two," Fordham said. "It's a simple mechanic which is fun and easy to understand, but if I was to monitor all the retweets, respond to them and pick a winner, that would be my day gone. So the PR company does that. It's become hugely successful."

SEVEN WAYS TO WORK WITH INDEPENDENT DIGITAL MEDIA COMPANIES WITHOUT LOSING THE PERSONAL TOUCH â- Retain ability to post relevant pics/info from source, such as staff pics, new food items, new opening pics.
â- Retain the ability to post conversational messages, to ensure personal representation of the brand. Don't be selfish!
â- Who knows the business well enough to respond to complaints? Ensure they take the conversation out of the public domain.
â- There must be clear USPs, personality and ethos when an agency is communicating any message.
â- Social media will increasingly be the first experience a new customer has of your brand. Consequently, it is an essential part of your brand's development.
â- The message, whoever is delivering it, must represent your brand's personality.
â- Creating an engaging and productive social media platform takes a lot of work.

Thousands of consumers receive offers from deal websites each day. They tend to work for the guest, but is it possible to make such low margin offers work for operators?

Rudding Park managing director Peter Banks said that the "genie is out of the bottle" but that was possible to increase footfall and profit.

He added: "They raise awareness. If you're in trouble with footfall, they will drive it. But you need to work out whether yours is a space-driven business model, like a hotel or golf course, or cost-based, like a restaurant.

"Deal a day websites tend to work better for space-driven models which then have an add-on for retail. It costs nothing for me to put someone off the first tee at 10am and all of them should have a pint afterwards."

But Banks warned that these weren't going to be regulars. They would be loyal to the website they bought the deal from, not the operator.

The Hempel general manager, Gareth Banner, said operators needed to ask themselves how much they need the business. "The promotions we ran were focused on driving incremental revenue at a time when I knew we had food that was perishable," he added.

Both hoteliers agreed that the offers had to be time-focused and had to be managed extremely carefully. "Accept that sometimes you are just buying turnover," Banks said. "But the visitors are more IT savvy. Many will write positive things online. So you get that spin-off."

Banner added that this meant you must maintain standards: "You can encourage upselling, but don't mismanage expectations by offering a different menu."

Frank X Arnold, general manager, the Balmoral

Positive comments â- Thank users for their comments and encourage conversation, even if they are not directly asking a question.
â- Take note of users who regularly engage with you and develop a rapport with them online - highlighting news or updates which may be of interest.

Negative comments â- Utilise the Direct Message or Private Message functions to discuss any issues with the guest in a private manner in the first instance.
â- Consider taking the conversation offline.
â- Act in a timely manner to respond and avoid the issue going viral.

Arnold Fewell, AVF Marketing, and Karen Fewell, DigitalBlonde
â- Forget about what you "think" will work.
â- Be open minded to current marketing and consumer trends.
â- Mistakes happen - 85% of people working in social media have been doing so less than two years.
â- Look for evidence to base your marketing decisions on.
â- Traditional and digital should work together to drive the same strategy.
â- Measure the statistics that matter - return on investment.

Paul Goodale, director of restaurants at Harrods, said there had been an exponential interested in food in the UK, fuelling the foodie phenomenon. He added: "We're on the cusp of a revolution where we could lead the world in the same way we have with other soft media (commentary, entertainment, arts and lifestyle). We have unique businesses and unique people working in branded restaurants across the country with a skills set that we can export as the economy grows."

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