Background and Goal
In the digital world we live in today, creating social media channels is one of the first items on the list for any small business owner about to launch a new venture. Not only does a strong web presence prove to be important in raising awareness, but the word of mouth marketing that organically takes place on active and successful platforms can be a real driver of foot traffic and help that business succeed in both the short and long term.
That was the thinking of one of our clients, a new restaurant that opened recently in the Central NY area. Their geographical reach was tight, about 25 miles, and their target audience was very niche and well thought out: healthy eaters. It wasn’t important to try and engage with everyone online. Instead, it would be more important to engage with the right people. The restaurant was locally owned and operated and had no prior web presence. We would be starting from the ground up, just like the restaurant itself.
Both the business owners and our team agreed that social media would be the single most important element within their marketing mix. This is a crowd that loves food, loves to interact with one another, and is passionate about how they live. We had to leverage the opinions of the people and centralize it so they could begin including the brand in their conversations. We set out with the intention of creating social media channels – focusing mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – with the goal of laying a foundation of passionate, vocal and positive fans. We were aiming for a few thousand fans in the short term, and 10,000+ in the long term.
In order to accomplish this, we built out a strategic plan that established the tone and voice we wanted to portray, identified the target audience and four key personas, selected the platforms that worked best based on our audience, built out the main categories and topics that we needed to cover to emphasize the brand’s key messages, and researched and uncovered influencers that would help extend the reach of our content. We then mapped out a timeline that covered the first month of social media work. This helped align our efforts with the client’s, and helped ensure that we were executing right.
Our plan was to post a teaser post week’s prior to opening. This would spark interest. Then, during the week of the restaurant’s opening, we would carry out our efforts aggressively. Our plan was then to review our work after the first month and adjust as needed for the future, while also building out an updated, longer term content marketing plan. This study looks at the first month of activity once the restaurant went live.
Based on the target audience, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were selected as our priorities. Yelp and foursquare would be used to aggregate reviews. And in the long-term, YouTube and SnapChat would also be built out. But the aforementioned three would be the focus for this time period. Meanwhile, the voice was chosen to be relaxed and conversational, using slang, and coming across very youthful, friendly, and hip. Frequency would be a minimum of one post to Facebook each day, every other day for Instagram, and 3-5 posts on Twitter. This did not include any sort of shares, engagements or RTs.
Here were some components of our work:
Social Media Organic Activity
First, our social media sites were set-up. The handles/vanity URLs used were consistent with the domain name/URL of our main website. This kept things consistent. We also used this same name as our branded hashtag. Profiles for each site were then completed. For example, store hours were listed, a downloadable PDF menu was present, our brand’s taglines and key message points (bio area) were written out. The language was consistent across all channels. Next, we took photos (and used photos supplied by the client) and created and scheduled out social media content. This was usually done a week in advance, with additional posts being created on-the-fly that were more timely. The content ranged from short videos, both professional and amateur style, to photos of customers, the food and the building, educational material and articles about the food, blog posts, and local posts about community events, among other key topics. We maintained the established voice and stayed close to our strategic plan in terms of social media topics, brand messaging and frequency of posts. It’s also important to mention that inside the restaurant, there is a huge sign promoting our branded hashtag. This encourages those in-store to participate in the conversations and easily lets them know we are active on social media.
Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising was put in place on both Facebook and Twitter. Knowing that Facebook’s organic reach is very low, say 5% at best, it is imperative that advertising dollars supplement great content. It’s the only way to build a foundation of loyal fans these days and boost the number of impressions on your best posts. That said, a $500/week budget was set for social media ads. In turn, $140/week was allocated to Twitter ads to promote the handle and boost followers. $210/week was spent on promoting the Facebook page and increasing our fans. This left $150/week to be budgeted for promoted Facebook posts. Generally, this meant we would spend $75 to boost two of our best posts throughout the week. Adding a $75 boost on a post could extend the reach tenfold, or even more. And remember, we only are charged for those who engage with the posts, not charged by impressions. The combined advertising effort allowed us to continually be building our fan base on both Facebook and Twitter and also allowed us to engage with fans – and friends of fans – who normally would not have seen our material.
Social Media Engagement
It was agreed that we would engage with every single person that commented, posted or interacted with us. It seems pretty straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many brands, both big and small, fail to respond to every fan. We kicked engagement into high gear and made sure every single fan was acknowledged if they commented, shared, or posted about our company. Sometimes, this was as simple as a like or favorite, sometimes more elaborate with paragraphs worth of info, potentially thanking them for their support, thoroughly answering their questions, or furthering the conversation to access more feedback. We monitored for standard engagements like comments, shares, reviews, posts to the wall, and direct messages on Facebook; RTs, @ mentions, favorites and direct messages on Twitter; and likes and comments on Instagram. Beyond these (where we would receive auto notifications from the social media sites), we also monitored other conversations taking place: mentions of the brand name in plain text (not using the tagging function), check-ins at the restaurant, and usage of our branded hashtag(s). To find these conversations, we set-up keyword streams in our social media management software, and also did manual checks multiple times each day.
Social Media Hashtag Contest
We also conducted a hashtag contest using a third party promotions app. This allowed us to encourage participating on all three social media sites, and not limit it to a contest on just one site. We encouraged fans to post a picture with our branded hashtag to enter. We specifically kept it simple to encourage more participation. Fans were asked to post photos of themselves with their friends or families, selfies, or pics of the food. As long as the hashtag was used, they were entered. We set-up a stream so participating photos would be showcased on our Facebook page and website. We monitored participation using the app and also re-purposed content from participants and shared those photos in our social efforts. The contest ran for the full 30 days and 11 random winners were selected (10 standard winners each won a prize valued at $150, and one grand prize winner took home a prize valued at $500). The total budget for prizes was $2,000. We used direct messaging to ask for winners’ contact information where we then sent the prizes to their home addresses. The contest gave us extra content to share, kept buzz at high levels, and boosted word of mouth about our new restaurant.
- A website was created for the company. This was simple, yet informational and mobile-friendly. We made sure to incorporate our social media links, as well as store hours, location, contact information, ability for fans to get in touch, the menu, nutrition facts, and job openings.
- We conducted local SEO efforts. For every page built on the site, we installed meta data and appropriate alt tags, using geo-modified keywords to include the location. We also set-up a Google+ page with appropriate information and store hours, verified the page, and kept this updated with ongoing social postings.
- The client managed public relations efforts and secured news stories in all major local news outlets. These articles were used in our social media efforts and listed on the website as well.
- They had an in-store staff member talking with customers, making sure their needs were taken care of, answering questions about the restaurant, and directing them to our social media sites.
- Finally, there were two email campaigns created and distributed to a list that was curated over time from one of the co-owner’s previous restaurant ventures. One email was sent to introduce the new restaurant. And a second was sent to encourage participated in the hashtag contest.
Over the course of the first 30 days that the restaurant was open, we saw incredible success on our social media channels, specifically on Facebook. Here were some stats:
On Twitter, we gained 421 followers (remember, we started at zero). By way of 121 tweets, we saw 44,800 impressions, 112 mentions, 108 favorites, 3,333 profile visits, and 109 visits to the website from Twitter activity. Sentiment was all positive, with zero negative comments about the brand. Below, see a chart of our follower growth.
We gained 291 followers on Instagram during that time period. With 13 posts during the month, we saw 200 likes, 25 comments, 52 check-ins, and 275 mentions of our branded hashtag. Sentiment was overwhelming positive, with feedback about the building, customer service, and most importantly, the product. See below for our follower growth.
Finally, on Facebook, we garnered 5,262 fans. Our 31 posts accessed a reach of 69,981 people. The posts were liked 4,343 times and saw 386 shares and 562 comments. We saw 110 reviews with an average star rating of 4.8 (many were very descriptive and sentiment was extremely positive). We also had 497 check-ins to our location and 2,193 visits from Facebook to our website. See below for a variety of stats related to our Facebook metrics.
The launch of the restaurant was extremely successful and social media certainly played a powerful role in reaching a new, unaware audience and getting fans involved in the conversations taking place about the new place. With roughly $4,000 out-of-pocket spend for ads and contest prizes, as well as about 65 hours put forth just for social media efforts, the expenses were well-worth the investment. There were a number of takeaways as a result of the effort:
- Carefully plan your strategy ahead of time. There wasn’t much real-time thinking involved since we knew what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. By preparing in advance, we stuck to our brand messaging and executed much more efficiently too.
- Advertising is a must. There’s really no way around it. It is critical to building a fan base and most important for added reach on your best pieces of content. If you are serious about building a strong social media presence for a new business, get serious with advertising.
- Be over-active. We engaged with 100% of people. Whether it was a comment, a RT, or even a simple like. Every. Single. Fan. Was. Acknowledged. It worked out to our advantage and the conversations were fantastic. It did take some extra time though.
- Deliver great content. Whether it was a simple saying, amazing photos, pictures of smiling customers, informational articles, we tried our hardest to make sure that every post had value and related to one or more of our key personas. Every post had a purpose and every post was high quality. And the frequency was not too little, and not too much. This kept people satisfied and coming back for more.
- Make sure your product is superb. It would have been difficult for us to reach our goal if this restaurant’s food was crummy. Of course, that isn’t the case, it’s actually phenomenal. Customers were happy to go out of their way to review or post about their great experience. Let high quality products do the heavy lifting for you. And make sure your in-store customer experience is just as good.