‘Social media’ is a buzzword at the moment, and has concreted itself as a primary communications network for the development of online and offline culture. It has allowed countless ‘virtual communities’ to emerge and grow, and is a very influential medium for those who know how to use it – primarily through engagement with ‘followers’. Your ‘followers’ are those who have opted to follow your social media presence (whether it be ‘following’ in Twitter, or ‘liking’ in Facebook) and as a result receive a stream of information (which is authored by you, or your social media manager). It is important to realise the difference between followers and customers – remember a ‘follower’ is simply someone who has subscribed to your social media channel. A customer is someone who purchases goods or services. So, ultimately:
Use social media strategically to turn ‘followers’ into ‘customers’.
Social media can be an extremely effective tool in the hospitality industry, provided it is used correctly. There is one main positive factor concerning social media: it is inexpensive (if not free).
In the hospitality industry, you can use social media for six purposes:
- Increasing customer service standards,
- Educating and sharing information,
- Overcoming objections,
- Informing and promoting,
- Interacting, and
- Word-of-mouth marketing.
Increasing customer service standards
Use social media as part of a broader strategy to increase customer service standards in your establishment. Use social media to impress people. Try and use social media uniquely (use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors), and integrate it seamlessly into your overall marketing strategy.
There are many ways to use social media to increase customer service. Examples are:
- Follow up with a customer on Twitter (ask them how their experience was in your venue), offer them a gift or discount if they return
- Spark a conversation with someone who was tagged in a photo at your venue (compliment them, or do something positive for them)
- Offer a benefit to your Foursquare Mayor, or a benefit to every customer who ‘checks in’ (Using Foursquare or Facebook)
- Ask for feedback about a particular event or product (be prepared to act swiftly on any negative comments)
Educating and sharing information
Use social media to educate your followers. Educate them about your products (this could be facts about a wine you are promoting, the flavours in a new cocktail you’ve made, or the flavour profile of a new beer you have imported), or a product that’s soon to be available from your venue. Educate customers about anything related to your chosen niche.
Educate about a particular wine variety, or a style of beer, or a particular style of cooking used by your chefs. Educate about current trends in the industry (customers love knowing what’s cool). Tell your customers random facts about a particular product. Tell them something interesting. Share an interesting link. This will start your followers talking to their peers, who will ‘follow’ you also. Your followers will eventually actively seek your tid-bits of information which enrich their knowledge base (and gives them something to talk about – hey, we have seen this before haven’t we? It’s word-of-mouth marketing). By educating your new followers, you are slowly converting them into customers, even if they don’t consciously know it.
Use your social media channels to overcome any objections that your followers may have. Basically, it means answering any questions or resolving any issues your followers have which may prevent them from visiting (or re-visiting) your venue.
This could be “I can’t go to Venue X, as it doesn’t have a vegetarian dish”, and in anticipated reply, you would state in your Facebook or Twitter feed: “Check out the vegetarian dish our Head Chef has added to our seasonal menu”. Or, a follower could think “I can’t take my hen’s party to Venue X, as they couldn’t possibly accept hen’s party bookings” and in anticipated reply, you would state “We cater for all group bookings – including hen’s parties and stag nights”. So, you need to pre-formulate any problems you think your followers may have when they evaluate the possibility of visiting your venue, and broadcast your solution to their conscious or unconscious problem on Facebook, Orkut, Twitter (or any other channel you may use).
Informing and promoting
Use social media to inform followers about important information or events regarding your establishment. This could be about an event you are having, a wine tasting you are conducting, or any other information or event relevant to your venue.
You can also use social media to promote existing content, or ‘share’ other links or Tweets (this is called a ‘retweet’) which in essence is creating a sense of association with your establishment. For example, if you own a Champagne bar, it makes sense to post links to existing content about expensive and luxurious Champagne houses, as your consumers will associate your venue with the expensiveness and luxury of such associated content.
Interactivity is also a valuable and unique characteristic of social media, and allows you (if you are the administrator of your social media channels) to interact with your followers. Effectively, this means replying to their tweets or posts, engaging with them in a conversation on Facebook, or offering some sort of two-way communication.
The process of interacting with your followers gives your establishment a personality. The way in which you respond to their communication will sculpt their opinion of your venue.
It’s important that you interact with your customers strategically – the method in which you interact with them will form a basis for their perception of your venue. If you reply with poor grammar and typing errors, it will reflect poorly on your venue. If you communicate consistently (in a style conducive to the style of your venue), with correct grammar and spelling, it will reflect positively on the ‘look and feel’ of your establishment. Your followers will form positive opinions. This will contribute to a positive external reputation.
Social media is also another ‘launch-pad’ for your word-of-mouth marketing strategy. If you perform the above four strategies well, your followers will soon be discussing you amongst their own social networks. This is exactly what you want!
There are a few main rules you should consider when planning and implementing your social media campaigns. Firstly:
Keep the grammar, punctuation, cadence, flow, attitude, and overall style of your tweets and Facebook posts in a consistent format. Pick a style that represents your venue. Remember that customers see this as the ‘voice’ of your venue.
Interactivity is an essential activity when using social media. If your followers talk to you, or make a comment of which you believe warrants a reply, reply to them immediately.
It’s important to have complete control over your social media channels – make sure you have ‘administrator’ access to each channel, so you can respond as soon as possible.
It’s also beneficial to do a social media search on your venue (use a social media search engine such as www.whostalkin.com or www.socialmention.com) by searching your venue name, or somebody associated with your venue – you’ll find out the ‘goss’ on what people are saying about you (or… your competitors).
As I’ve mentioned in earlier chapters, use social media to monitor what people are saying about you – social media is great for gauging your external reputation.