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Are your customers truly the new marketing department? With rapid changes in social media platforms, it can be difficult to maintain control of your restaurant’s brand online. This past September at the annual MUFSO conference in Dallas, TX, a group of experts from the restaurant industry gathered to share their insights on how to continue driving a restaurant’s success through close monitoring and active engagement on social media. Panel members included Kathleen Buehler, Director of Operations at Guest Intelligence (formerly Guest Intelligence (formerly White Box Social Intelligence)); Cliff Graham, client partner of global marketing solutions for Facebook’s restaurant industry team; Clay Dover, Chief Marketing Officer of Pei Wei; and Ron Ruggless, Southwest Bureau Chief for Nation’s Restaurant News.

Guest Intelligence (formerly Guest Intelligence (formerly White Box Social Intelligence)), a Black Box Intelligence (formerly TDn2K) (Transforming Data into Knowledge) brand, is the restaurant industry’s first location-based social media listening platform to combine traditional engagement and measurement tools with operations, sales and competitive data analysis. It currently monitors 6 restaurant segments, 301 restaurant brands, 60,396 restaurant units, and 6,500,000 million social mentions per month (and growing). In her presentation, Buehler used the most recent data to demonstrate how companies in different restaurant segments are performing on various social media platforms and how that performance correlates to sales and traffic growth.

In the casual dining segment, for example, Instagram activity is often correlated with sales. Casual dining companies generally have two times as many posts per unit as the fast casual segment. In the upscale casual/fine dining segment, however, guests are most active on review sites such as Yelp. In fact, upscale casual and fine dining restaurants generate twice as many Yelp reviews per unit as casual dining restaurants. Those reviews center around food, service, atmosphere and intent on return. Although data shows that 14 percent of service mentions in the fine dining segment are negative, it does receive fewer negative service mentions than the industry as a whole.

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Buehler indicated that a company’s overall performance on review sites like Yelp and Google is in fact a meaningful indicator of sales and traffic. Facebook, on the other hand, is a valuable site for sharing content and increasing brand awareness through reach, yet the number of Facebook page “likes” are not a genuine indicator of bottom line performance for most brands.

According to Graham, video sharing is now the key best practice for restaurant brands on Facebook. Video consumption among users is skyrocketing on all social platforms, and recent research shows that people are spending about 27 percent of all mobile time on Facebook and Instagram. Furthermore, 60 percent of customers use only their mobile devices when choosing where to dine. Graham then noted a somewhat surprising truth- that Facebook is being used primarily for ad buys now instead of active engagement.

Visibility isn’t the only factor to consider in fully utilizing social media, however. Dover stressed the importance of always reflecting the company culture. “Social media should be responsive and spontaneous,” he explained. By creating fun, engaging posts, customers are able to understand and connect with a brand’s culture, which results in continued loyalty and commitment to the company. “You need to get people excited about your brand.”

The panel concluded with some final thoughts on social media best practices for the coming year, namely the importance of continuing to monitor performance on all platforms and understanding how your brand is represented to your customers. Buehler and Graham commented on the importance of making social media decisions based on tangible data, with an understanding of how your brand’s social media performance affects your bottom line. “External firms are needed to monitor and listen on social,” Graham stated. Moral of the story? If you don’t actively monitor and control your company’s social media, someone else will.