First Steps Into Social: The Restaraunter

July 8, 2010
Restaurant Chef Ingredients

Prepare the raw ingredients for your social media menu

In a new post series, First Steps Into Social will focus on specific industries and seek to provide some starting points for those new to (and perhaps overwhelmed by) the world of social media.

Last week we looked at some steps a veterinarian can take into social. This week our stomachs lead us and we can’t resist serving up some advice for restaurant owners everywhere.

For those involved in food service, why not look at these first steps into social media:

  • Work up the appetites of your audience by posting mouth-watering descriptions of your daily specials. Whole Foods Market do this regularly on Twitter for their cafe/buffet options.
  • Create a blog with varied content about both your own restaurant and others in your community. Write about your own dishes, their history, look into the origins of the type of food you serve. Write about the neighborhood or town in which you operate, how it defines your restaurant and the type of clientele you serve. Build a picture in the reader’s mind of who you are, the type of dining experience you’ll give them, and background as to where it came from.
  • Ask your clients to tell you about their favorite experience at your restaurant, what they ate, drank, and how the atmosphere added to their meal. Then, with their permission, write a blog post about it with pictures of the dishes and area in which they sat. Better yet, encourage  them to share the experience on Facebook or as a Google or restaurant site review. Take a look at the number of the Lombardi’s Pizza 4 and 5 star reviews on Google alone and decide how you can get people buzzing about your delicious menu.
  • Set up listening stations to monitor discussion of both your business and other dining experiences in your town/region. Respond to comments, good or bad, about your restaurant via the same media used to express them, thanking any praise and engaging any criticism to turn the situation around. Search more generally a couple of hours before the main meals you serve to find prospective customers looking to eat in your area. If you engage them and alert to your delicious menu, they may well feel special enough to come in and give you a try.
  • Extend the in-house comment/suggestions cards to ask for customer reviews on their favorite restaurant or business listing sites. Offer a return incentive of a discount or free item for those who can point to a review. Do the same for customers who share their experience on Facebook and return with friends.
  • Register on Foursquare and other location-based social networks such as Gowalla and Loopt. Participate in the game format of sites that use it by advertising specials or privileges for the top user, as Milwaukee’s AJ Bombers do for their ‘Foursquare Mayor. Use the sites yourself wherever possible to understand the nuances of each and how best to encourage user discussion of your restaurant.
  • Look into offering a group buying coupon through a site such as Living Social or Groupon, if they operate in your area. Such services usually offer $xx dollars worth of food/drink for a reduced rate, often as much as 50 or 60%, encouraging initial buyers to share with their friends for a night out. They also receive the offer free if enough of those they share with purchase too, giving an added incentive. Even for those that don’t buy, the e-mail and shared advertising raises awareness of your business to those in your area.

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Food and drink have a special place in the hearts of social media users, as the platforms are more more frequently used to share insights on delicious treats or less palatable experiences. This offers the restauranteur – and indeed most food service providers – a fantastic opportunity to whet the appetites of existing customers and seek out the hungry and thirsty individuals that are just waiting to visit your establishment.

Bon appetit!

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As a hungry social media user, what lures you into new places to eat and/or drink? What turns you off?

As the proprietor or employee  of a restaurant/food service provider, what experiences have you had in using social media to increase your custom?

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Photo credit: Devlyn

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David vs Goliath: What Can SMB’s Learn From Big Brand Social Media?

July 2, 2010

David vs. Goliath PupsWe love the work of Social Media Examiner here at Above The Static, with their most recent feature on WWE‘s adoption of social media just one example of their insightful case studies.

It got us thinking, though, how do the lessons presented from a case such as this apply to us SMB’s, with minimal brand clout and lacking an army of raving fans?

When it comes to social media, the strategies for building an effective brand through web presence development need to be adjusted. The platforms available certainly allow us to compete with the Goliaths of our respective fields but, like David, we still need to pick the right tactics to win.

So let’s look at the take-away points from the aforementioned article, this time from the perspective of a small-medium size business owner:

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  • Go where the fans are

Big brands have already done much of the work to build a fan base through other channels, so naturally their goal in adopting a new medium focuses more heavily on finding this existing group. For smaller organizations, although a dedicated core may exist, it’s more a case of seeking out prospective fans, engaging them, and converting to Ken Blanchard’s Raving Fans. Ideally, your current community will advocate you initially and help to attract the new members to get the ball rolling.

Furthermore, the chance to identify dissatisfied customers of larger brands offers a vital new channel to smaller competitors. By monitoring their social media output and engaging them in discussion, perhaps providing advice or a solution to their issues, we can prove more communicative and flexible than the big boys. Inject a dose of local knowledge that larger names often lack and you’re on the way to leveling the playing field.

  • Stick to your story line

SMB’s still need to build their brand and remain on point with their chosen message, so sticking to this with social media content is a similar requirement.  The approach certainly differs, however, as a local focus and showing off the advantages of a flexible local company are often key to defining a successful smaller brand. Having your community back up your claims of superior service and better understanding of your area’s needs also goes a long way to growing your social media community. Providing regional content via blogs and shared news items only increases your ability to point to local ties and expertise.

  • Protect your identity

Established brands will have to deal with this immediately, as customers view social media as an ideal outlet to complain about their service issues. This is less likely to plague SMB’s initially given the reduced customer base, though the opportunity still exists and getting the required monitoring systems in place early on allows us to address any negative press before it has a chance to spread too far. We wrote more on this subject earlier this year in our Listening Stations post.

The message here for smaller organizations is two-fold: 1) From the very beginning, understand that social media makes communication a two-way street, in which our clients have as much ability to discuss our activities as we do, and 2) Bigger brands are far more susceptible to unhappy customers and, if they’re expressing this dissatisfaction online, you can find and engage them. If done sensitively, with the individual’s needs at the heart of your communication and action, this can be an excellent way to develop new business and position yourself as a preferable, more flexible alternative to your larger competitors.

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So we can see that although SMB’s will use the same social media tools and platforms as the big brands, we need to approach them from our own angle, advocating the advantages of using smaller providers. This may include the local factor, ability to be more flexible and  responsive to the needs of the community, friendlier customer service, or any number of factors that give us greater maneuverability than the big players in our field.

Don’t be discouraged by the daunting success of some large brands using social media. The tools really offer a great opportunity to reach out to new and existing audiences alike, creating a more level playing field using the same platforms. So pick the right battles and bring down Goliath one converted fan at a time!

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Have you been successful in identifying unhappy customers via social media and addressing their needs?

What other benefits do you think smaller brands offer that the Goliaths of the industry simply can’t keep up with?

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Photo courtesy of Feeb


Tips For Trending: Joining the Popular Conversation Without Spamming

June 21, 2010
Zombie Trends

Are you watching the trends?

We’ve all seen the spammers on Twitter, surrounding their garbage links with trending topics in the hope that someone will accidentally click or, better yet, be attracted to their message. It’s irrelevant and clutters up the stream for the real trends we’re examining.

But what about those of us seeking to combine a current topic of interest with our own subject matter, raising interest in both?

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There are plenty of ways to join the popular conversation without coming across as gimmicky or, worse, another merchant of spam. Here we offer some tips on walking the line of trending topics:

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  • Always map out the links between your own subject and the trend. There should be at least some foundation for your mentally connecting the two in the first place, but if it’s a stretch then don’t force the link as this will show up in your content.
  • If the trend is a pop culture subject, in most cases you should keep the connection light-hearted and fun, avoiding direct self-promotion. Think of it more as an opportunity to temporarily relax the tone of your content, in between more formal and/or promotional posts.
  • Offer insight into both sides of your content. Don’t just make a tenuous link to a trend to lure in a wider audience, then ignore what brought your new folks to you in the first place. Research the trend as well and link to other interesting sources that will add weight to your interest in the popular subject.
  • Following from that, whenever possible be passionate about the trend to which you’re connecting. When you create based on subjects that inspire you, it’s another way to deliver alluring content. Your passion will be translated to the content and further remove any suspicion of being a gimmick.
  • To strengthen the connection of your subjects, research the keywords and phrases associated with the trending topic. In much the same way you want to attract the search traffic for your own area of expertise, you need to give the search engines as much as possible to work with when people search content for the popular subject.
  • Further to the last point, research hashtags  being used on Twitter around the trending subject. There are usually a number surrounding any given and you should use only the relevant ones that resonate well with your content. Again, avoid any misleading tags or keywords when promoting your content, to avoid spam connotations and a frustrated audience. This helpful post explains the use of hashtags.
  • Only use this approach to content creation from time to time. Unless pop culture and news is your business, not everything you create around your own speciality should be connected to a trend. Overuse of this method again leads to suspicion of bandwagon jumping.

So, be passionate about the trends you connect your own work to and create your content in a way that respects both subjects, adding value to the variety of viewers your efforts will attract. Keep it relevant and light on the sales pitch (if any at all), then promote it the same way.

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What are your thoughts on connecting with trending topics?

How do you approach content creation differently when doing so? What works and what is still spam?

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Useful links for trending topics:

Digg

Twitter Trends & Search

Google Trends

Yahoo! Buzz


Cartoon courtesy of Scott Hampson


7 Ways To Prove You’re The Expert’s Expert

June 17, 2010

ExpertiseSo you know that your knowledge is second to none and that you’re the maven of [insert subject here]. But how do you communicate this to those new to your efforts, especially within the limited personal contact of the digital realm?

Although it’s true that working relationships built up in person have a natural trust associated with them, the social web offers more and more opportunities to develop such relationships on the basis of demonstrated knowledge. Additionally, your reach is much extended beyond your own region, making productive, beneficial  connections with the perfect associates more accessible than ever.

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All very well, but the original question was: how?

In this post we look at seven steps you can take to begin building  an online repository of your expertise, helping out others who can benefit from your knowledge, and connecting with those elusive contacts that may not have been available to you outside of social media.

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  • Write varied and unique content on your own website via a blog. Include practical advice for your readers and, once you have a good block of popular content, create a ‘Best Of’ section of your blog and link to it now and again from other platforms and blog posts. Check out our advice on creating alluring content to get started.
  • Search and answer relevant questions on LinkedIn, Answers.com, Yahoo! Answers, and any other site where people gather to search for the expert knowledge you have to impart. Niche sites for your specialist area may be more appropriate, if you find too many responses on the larger sites.
  • Speak or provide informed opinion at a relevant event. Twitter is full of individuals arranging ‘tweet-ups’, as well as dedicated sites like MeetUp offering specific categories, making it easy to find the right level and subject for your area of expertise. By finding these via social media, you can also connect with attendees before and after the event, whether you’ve met them in person or not.
  • Host a webinar via a site like Webex or GoToMeeting. Many offer a free trial so you can find your feet and select the site you prefer. This gives you a chance to offer some free advice to those with an interest in your field, gathering a community around your expert opinion and storing it online as a reference point for anyone that is unable to attend. A webinar can also be marketed more like an event, making it easier to spread on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Create a podcast or video guide. Recording is now simple enough that good quality output can be made from a PC or digital camera. As the spoken word and visual elements of these media offer a more human connection to your content, they bridge some of the distance we discussed early and can appear more authoritative. This simple guide from Best Internet Marketing can get you started in podcasting.
  • Request referrals and testimonials from those who have had the most positive experiences working with you. You can be recommended as an individual on LinkedIn, ask for a review on business listings like Google Maps or Yelp!, or simply post their enthusiastic comments on a specific section of your website for prospective customers to read.
  • Offer free consultations to show what you can do for a specific individual or business, without committing them to anything. The no cost aspect is a great way to attract new interest in your services, while the one-on-one nature helps to focus in on the exact needs of those you’re working with and communicate more clearly what you can help them achieve.

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How are you using the social web to demonstrate your expertise?

What difficulties have you found in standing out in a crowded environment such as LinkedIn Answers?

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Cartoon coutesy of Geek & Poke


Three L’s? Once Again, They’re All Location

April 6, 2010
Where are you?

Where are you?

Coming into the New Year – and continuing through the SXSWi conference last month – location-based social networks and tools have been the hot topic amongst early adopters.

In addition to the early leaders Foursquare and Gowalla, fresh names such as Loopt and Brightkite have emerged to compete, along with the existing major platforms Twitter and Facebook adding or planning location-oriented updates. As much as “what are you doing?” was the key question a couple of years ago, “where are you doing it?” is the inquiry many new services are hoping we will be eager to answer in the coming months and years.

But is the focus on geolocation services simply the next fad to occupy the burgeoning ranks of social media enthusiasts? Though concerns around privacy and security have naturally arisen, there are various possibilities – particularly for small businesses – in being able to sync location details with existing and potential customers alike. Here we nod to some of the possibilities:

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  • Serendipity – How often have you found yourself in a new city…or even just  a new part of your own town…wishing you knew a great place to eat or grab a good coffee? If a potential customer has the ability to log into their mobile device and find your business near their location, you’ll want to make sure you have a presence on these services and some great reviews to lure in new business.
  • Save On the Go – Paper coupons can be a pain to obtain, plan, and hold onto until shopping day arrives. In much the same way as a hungry diner may decide where to eat based on location reviews, a shopper may simply tune into their local coupon offers right after they finish work. If that’s your store, 50 cents off a Coke may win you a full week’s shopping for a family.
  • Flash Mobs – Granted, you don’t want the kind of flash mob that’s full of teens aggravating one another (or do you?!), but what about an unexpected party arriving for a beer and staying for the night? If small groups are checking into your bar and posting it to a service like Foursquare, as the service (or those like it) expand then there exists the possibility for this to become the next text invite. Except now every one of their friends is invited to join. And you want the invite to be to your location.
  • Reward Loyalty– Sure, reward memberships are nothing new, but the ability to tie them into promotional e-mails, texts, and even hourly offer notices is a much more powerful tool than a cashier asking “do you have a club card?” Cards can be easily left at home or misplaced, but customers will generally carry their mobile devices to most locations. In a similar way to the potential of mobile coupons, if you can reward and update your customer regularly (and creatively)  enough when they’re in your area, you have the opportunity to become their preferred vendor. Hey, maybe then they’ll even write a great review of you for the new ones…..

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Of course, this only scratches the surface of some of the possibilities for location-based social marketing. Not all of these benefits will require giving away ones location to the public at large, which may aid in the uptake of certain new services. Others will require a careful sell to ensure users that their location information is as securely displayed as possible.

We will continue to examine the possibilities of these services as the trend develops into established businesses. If anything, we certainly believe that this one has legs and will spawn some exciting concepts that change the way we do business, offering great opportunities to early adopters.

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As a business, how can you envisage using location-based social networking?

As a consumer, would you consider offering your location – whether privately or to the public – as a means to get better deals?

What are your general feelings towards giving away more and more of our personal data to publicly read online services?


Listening Stations: Tune Into Your Fan’s Frequency

March 19, 2010
Listening_Stations

Are you tuned into the right stations?

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”, said Oliver Wendell Holmes. Whether global brand, small business owner, or artist, there’s plenty of wisdom to be gained in taking time out from broadcasting your message and instead tuning in to those talking about it.

In the past this was a much more costly, labor intensive effort to undertake, with consumer surveys, focus groups, and outside agencies often involved in obtaining a diluted form of opinion. Thankfully, social media and  increasingly active bases of internet consumer opinion have flipped the game on its head, making it easier than ever to tune into the frequency of your audience.

For musicians, Indie Survival Guide just released a quick and extremely useful tutorial on tracking your mentions online. An invaluable resource for musicians, certainly, but the overall advice holds true for other groups as well, particularly small businesses with limited resources to invest.

As a 3 point program, this boils down to:

  1. Define your key search terms. As with web design and SEO, this comes down to the key words surrounding your industry the name of your organization, and other pertinent terms.
  2. Choose and set up your listening stations. From Google Alerts to Twitter search and beyond, there are innumerable free options on the web for monitoring your mentions. We’ll be focusing on the best of these in a separate post next week.
  3. Track & follow up. Set up a routine to monitor your stations on a regular basis and, most importantly, follow up with those talking about you, whether positive or negative. A thank you for a good review or an attempt to reach out and resolve a negative opinion can both build bridges between you and your audience.

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When Chris Brogan encourages us to Grow Bigger Ears, it’s to recommend  developing a key part of the two-way street that is increasingly emerging as a natural part of online commerce and life. Our audience is going to be talking more and more whatever we do. It’s those that hear their message and respond effectively that will be the success stories of tomorrow.

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How do you listen to what your audience or customers are saying? What tools work best for you?

Have you any success stories resulting from listening online? We would love to hear them!


Social Media: Key Reading

March 17, 2010

Social media readingTo kick off our mission to build one of the most useful resource centers for social media and online presence development on the web, today we focus on some of the leading sources of social media knowledge out there.

These will be added to the Resources section for your bookmarks. As it expands, we’ll categorize everything accordingly for easy access. In the meantime, enjoy the myriad learning opportunities from these outstanding social media sources:

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Social Media Examiner – More information than one could ever hope to read, with practical advice and how to guides on using all the crucial social media tools.

Chris Brogan – A font of excellent insight into everything from successful blogging to building productive, trusting relationships on social media platforms.

Mashable – One of the premier online destinations for social media news, developments, and advice. If something happens in the SM world, it’s often mentioned here first.

Guardian Technology Blog – A varied source for coverage on developments in both the social media world and the tech that surrounds it. Also provides regular coverage on music industry matters in this area.

Hypebot – Great news sources combining music and technology, including social media for the new music business.

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Photo by Panta Rhei