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7 low-cost ways to manage social media

Social media management provides a number of singular challenges to the restaurant owner, not the least of which is trying to stay on top of multiple platforms as they shift and dip in a seemingly constant game of musical chairs. Pinterest is on top, no Instagram, Foursquare is trending on Twitter, now it’s not, wait it’s changed again—and now hashtags on Facebook. Trying to marshal your marketing resources in an effective, and fiscally practical, manner can appear nearly impossible. There are, however, a few quick ways to improve your efforts at little or no cost.

1. Use photos. A picture is worth a thousand appetites—literally. Everyone knows (or should know by now) that whenever tweeting or posting an update about the menu, wine, or even a new cocktail, it should always be accompanied by a picture. But you would be amazed at the number of restaurant owners who pay photographers for print ads and website layouts—and then post out-of-focus, badly lit, poorly framed photos of their menu on their social media sites for thousands of people to see. There are world-famous restaurants in NYC, with chef-owners who are household names, that regularly post pictures of their offerings that are almost unidentifiable as food. Invest in an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, just make sure it has a macro setting.  Shoot at the highest resolution from at least 18 inches away – any closer and the autofocus is going to be useless. (You can find some more specific food photography tips here.) Make sure to give your food the online representation it deserves—it’s worth the effort.

2. Set goals. Take some time, sit down and write down exactly what your goals are. The secret here is not to make it the number of fans you have on any platform. To keep it simple you can pick a target for the number of people who “share” a Facebook post, or how many re-tweets you get, or maybe how many likes you get for a specific Instagram post. If you want to dive into the process a little deeper you can check out the “Insights” feature on your Facebook page and see which posts get the most viral response. Track your efforts over time and see what works best for you. The best measure of your efforts is the number of people who act on your post.

3. Involve the staff. Your staff is also invested in the success of your restaurant, and they are also almost certainly active on social media. It makes sense then to invite them to join in the conversation. Ask them to interact with posts online, share Facebook updates or retweet Twitter posts. Instagram can be a great platform for creativity and viral content propagation. You can provide simple incentives for the most inspired efforts. It’s all about communication and engagement, and you have an internal network built into your restaurant that’s primed to help get the message out.

4. Mix it up. Don’t make every post a blatant “Eat Here Now” message. Post a favorite recipe from your chef, an insider’s tip from your bartender or maybe a link to an article about your favorite food purveyor. You can also pick a local charity event or group and help promote their efforts. Don’t forget that social media is not only a promotional tool, it also an increasingly diverse and dynamic communications platform.  The best networkers are engaging and interactive. When in doubt, ask a question: “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What wine would you pair with this?”

5. Respond in real time. Reward diners who tweet positive comments while they’re in the restaurant. It can be random, but you can have someone check the twitter feed for references to your restaurant throughout the night. Sending a dessert to a table that just tweeted a compliment to the chef can be hugely effective in inspiring interaction on all platforms—and it will increase the viral reach of your restaurant exponentially.

6. Provide a clear call to action. Each Facebook update, Tweet and Instagram post should include a link for people to act on. Whether it’s a link to your menu or reservation pages, more information on a recipe or a link to a local greenmarket website, always provide your followers something to interact with and explore.

7. Try video. Whether it’s a two-minute YouTube video, a six-second Vine short or one of the just rolled out Instagram 15-second features, video is the king of online content. It is also more accessible than ever. Phones, iPads, point-and-shoot cameras: Virtually every device now features foolproof HD video capabilities. And in the case of Instagram, you’ve got 15 seconds in which you can use stop motion to display anything from how dishes are prepared and plated to a short on constructing one of your desserts. It only takes a few minutes to master the relatively remedial editing skills—but the payoff in customer response will be huge.

Implementing these low-cost suggestions can positively impact your social media efforts literally in as little as a few hours. Remember: While effective social media is easy, ineffective social media can be even easier.

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