For many restaurants, getting a handle on social media can translate into major new promotional opportunities.
“Food is one of the most — if not the most — common type of content shared across social networks,” says Greta Miersma, director of communication, Delfina Restaurant Group.
“For restaurants, guests sharing images of their restaurants, dishes, drinks, interior — any social share, comment, picture sharing or check — in is the new word of mouth marketing. Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of that kind of marketing?”
Erin Barber, social media manager for Waterbar, agrees: “Waterbar is in San Francisco, the hub of social media and technology. FireFox, Google, Twitter are all our neighbors — literally across the street.
“We have an automatic audience, people who are entrenched and connected to their devices. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — that’s how they communicate.”
Restaurants looking to manage all their social media campaigns from a single dashboard have some good news from Forrester: The market research firm has done all the legwork. Essentially, Forrester kicked the tires on all the major social media dashboards currently available and produced a short list of those worth a look:
Probably one of the biggest surprises of the Forrester social media dashboard study, authored by Nate Elliot, was that Hootsuite — one of the most popular social media dashboards on the market — was only rated as a middle-of-the-pack offering in the study.
Essentially, Forrester researchers saw Hootsuite as a strong contender. But Percolate bested Hootsuite when it came to integrating social media into a multichannel marketing plan. And Forrester also liked Percolate better than Hootsuite for content creation.
Moreover, Spredfast was able to analyze feedback to social media posts more quickly than Hootsuite, according to the researchers. And they also liked Spredfast better than Hootsuite when it came to incorporating third-party plug-ins.
Quick feedback analysis is something that could come in handy at the six restaurants in the Delfina group, where the managers, servers and chefs capture the best images, have the funniest comments and offer up the most interesting highlights at the restaurants every day, according to Delfina’s Miersma.
With a tool like Spredfast, those same people could more easily riff off quick analysis of customer feedback to those restaurant posts. “The managers, servers and chefs – they’re the ones driving our social media channels and keeping us current,” Miersma says. “I can't be at all our restaurants all the time. So our team's breadth and depth of knowledge — and, of course, their fantastic personalities — is the absolute best resource.”
Meanwhile, Sprinklr bested Hootsuite when it came to providing restaurants with the sheer number of tools to work with in social media. And Sprinklr was also better for restaurants that have global, multinational ambitions, according to Forrester.
Overall, Forrester researchers found that social media dashboards make it easier for restaurants to manage dozens of social employees and accounts, according to Elliot. And while no one tool does it all, most go a long way toward pulling together and managing virtually all the elements of a highly effective, and highly interactive social media presence.
Specifically, most of the products Forrester puts at the front of the pack automate the scheduling and posting of text and multimedia across a wide array of social media networks.
“Being able to schedule posts is important,” says Waterbar’s Barber. “It’s efficient and helps keep things organized.”
Moreover, most of the solutions also enable a restaurant owner or manager to monitor how the brand is faring on social media. They are appropriate for both casual users of Facebook and other networks, as well as more engaged influencers, like bloggers.
Moreover, dashboards in the top three are also best at helping restaurants greatly automate the processing of messages – including reading and analyzing, and sorting out who at the company should respond to a specific post.
In addition, these social relationship platforms help assign various levels of access to a business’ social media campaign. And most of the solutions offer workflow tools that route inbound posts to the right teams.
All told, Forrester evaluated social media dashboards using a 41-point checklist. It also surveyed each vendor about its product and asked for product demos.
A closer look at the options
Here’s how the top three programs stack up, according to Forrester:
• Percolate: This package is a best bet for users looking to integrate their social marketing into much broader marketing strategies, according to researchers. The drive behind Percolate was to build a marketing system of record that lets clients centralize their operations across all marketing channels, streamline their workflows and governance, analyze their results and optimize their marketing programs.
Researchers also say the platform boasts best-in-class workflow and content creation tools. Plus, Percolate has a rather nifty “Brew" tool, which tracks custom-defined lists of media outlets and influencers that restaurants are monitoring, looks for topics related to the restaurant’s online themes, then prioritizes the specific topics on which the company should publish.
On the downside, Percolate's analysis, prioritization, and routing of inbound posts is only limited to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, according to Elliot. And its global capabilities are underdeveloped for a vendor with such grand ambitions, according to the researchers.
• Spredfast: This package is best at offering users insights and advice as they work on a social media marketing campaign, according to researchers. Specifically, it tracks comments and questions that pop up from the customers and others a restaurant is trying to engage on social media.
Moreover, as restaurants use the package, it recommends popular hashtags related to their content and suggests alternative wording that might generate more interest. Clients the researchers talked with loved Spredfast’s onboarding and support. And they liked the fact that it partners with other leading social vendors — such as Brandwatch and Kenshoo — rather than trying to build an end-to-end social suite.
The cons: Spredfast makes it tough for a restaurant to collaborate and share ideas via the package, according to researchers. Moreover, its measurement tools were considered only average. And the vendor does little to help restaurants share their social data into third-party measurement tools, according to researchers.
• Sprinklr: This dashboard is good for restaurants that have broad social needs and plans to expand globally, according to researchers. Sprinklr is designed to offer clients every imaginable social tool. And Sprinklr’s team is also happy to custom-build add-ons. Especially strong with Sprinklr is the package's monitoring and publishing features, according to the researchers.
However, researchers questioned Sprinklr’s vision and focus, according to Elliot. The vendor went on a buying spree last year, apparently focused more on integrating a series of lackluster technologies into an end-to-end social suite than on helping users connect their social efforts to their broader marketing programs. And the product’s complexity, combined with its relatively poor ease of use, means Sprinklr clients pay far more than average in services fees, the researchers say.
Meanwhile, beyond the top three dashboards, a number of 'middle-of-the-pack' solutions on the market could do the trick for a restaurant with specific needs. Researchers say these dashboards often have singular strengths, citing the following:
• Shoutlet: Good if you want a well-rounded tool at a good price.
• Expion: Very good at customer support and measurement.
• Houtsuite: Offers the best content and publishing automation available.
• Falcon Social: The perfect tool for businesses most concerned with responding to customer comments on social media.
In the third tier of dashboards, researchers found a number of also-ran products that, while less impressive than the industry leaders, were still helpful in some ways:
• Sprout Social: A competitive tool at a great price that outperforms market leaders for ease-of-use and scheduling.
• Adobe Social: A good tool for businesses marketing globally on social media.
• Oracle Social Cloud: Another good global tool that can analyze social media sentiment in seven languages.
• Salesforce Social Studio: A decent choice for firms already using other Salesforce tools.
The ultimate question is whether better managing social media efforts is worth devoting the necessary time and possibly marketing dollars. “People call making reservations saying they saw our Instagram or Facebook and they are coming because the pictures and stories we tell have sparked an interest. If that’s not ROI, I don’t know what is,” Waterbar’s Barber says.