Restaurants shouldn’t just jump on these sites without preparation, though.
“You have to have relevant content,” said Mike Amos, founder, president and chief executive officer of Empathica, a Mississauga, Ontario-based company devoted to measuring and managing consumer loyalty for multiunit retailers and foodservice operators.
“It’s not mass marketing anymore — it’s direct,” Amos said.
Panelists also agreed it’s important for individuals to represent companies on these social media Web sites in an integrated way, rather than the brand trying to speak for itself.
“I don’t want to see the brand tweeting, I want to see the person behind the brand tweeting,” said Adam Hirsch, chief operations officer for Mashable, a San Francisco-based social media guide with almost 800,000 followers on Twitter.
Be careful with discounts
Whether restaurants are staying afloat in this recession by reaching out over social media, or cutting back input costs with smaller portion sizes, or offering discounts and promotions, they have to be careful to stay true to their niche.
“The biggest factor going forward is differentiation,” said Larry Hattig, executive vice president and senior managing director Mesirow Financial Consulting, Chicago. “The 40-page menu that has everything … is not going to make people come to that destination. You can’t be all things to all people.”
It is more important than ever to attract and keep customers, not only because the industry is facing lower traffic rates, but also because when the economy picks up, restaurants want consumers coming back to their locations.
“We have to treat guests special and give them what they want. What a novel idea,” said Chris O’Donnell, chief executive officer of Famous Dave’s of America Inc., Minnetonka, Minn.