E-HarmonyWant to know how your Google presence and your Facebook page should work together to get you more business? The good news is, you’re probably almost doing it right already, writes Rob Johnson.

The hospitality industry is at a really interesting crossroads in terms of marketing and promotion right now. Especially in terms of digital marketing. For some of our country’s top restaurants, it’s as if they’ve gathered all the ingredients to make a wonderful meal—but then they don’t take the final step and actually cook it.

Take Estelle, the hatted bistro on Melbourne’s north side, run by R&C Young Achiever Scott Pickett. Pickett and his team have done everything right in terms of digital marketing—a nicely designed website, a monthly newsletter, and an active social media presence on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

But according to Pickett, even though they’ve had a long-standing presence on social media, it was more driven by customers reaching out to them than their marketing initiative.

“We have had a social media presence since the beginning, but only over the last year or so have we placed a concentrated effort into interacting with our customers on social media,” he says. “We found that customers were reaching out more, posting photos and checking in and we decided to get on board with it and drive it as opposed to it being a one-sided interaction.”

The other fundamentally important thing Pickett and his team did right from the start was create a means for people to sign up for an email newsletter. “We do keep a database,” he says. “We have a lot of locals that visit us on a regular basis, and they like to know what we’re up to. Our newsletter is sent out to our database and keeps everyone informed.”

The team at Estelle aren’t the only restaurant to do this by any means. And many hospitality businesses are miles ahead of others in their embrace of digital media. Often that’s because when you’re in hospitality, it’s natural to be hospitable—to enjoy that connection with customers. “We use Facebook not so much as a tool to promote the venues, but to engage with our customers on another level,” Pickett says. “Of course it’s a great way to promote special events and to keep customers informed as to what’s going on, but it also allows us to share what happens behind the scenes.”

Feeling a connection

Every chef knows assembling and prepping the ingredients won’t get you the same results as a finished dish. According to content marketing expert Mark Brown of Engage Content, the same applies to marketing.

“The really powerful thing the Estelle team has done is build an audience who know, like and trust them,” he explains. “But they’re not always taking advantage of the power of that connection when they keep their digital communication channels separate.”

According to Brown, there is virtually no other form of advertising a restaurant can do where your customers opt in and ask you to send them your ads. “With everything else you do, you’re trying to interrupt that customer while they’re doing something else—reading their mail, or the local paper, or even enjoying their meal at your restaurant!

“With content on your website or on social media, those that see it are actively seeking you out and want to interact with your business.”

What people want

“People want to connect with you online in the same way they want to make a booking at your restaurant,” Brown adds. “If someone walks in the door of your restaurant, you don’t just ignore them, hope they take a seat and start working out the menu for themselves. You invite them in, greet them when they arrive, and give them what they ask for.

“Your digital marketing needs to be the same. You shouldn’t just reserve a corner of your website for newsletter sign-ups, then ignore it. You should invite people to sign up, reward them for doing so—maybe with an auto-reply free recipe, or a voucher—and then give them reasons to keep coming back. For example, regular behind-the-scenes stuff, like the Estelle guys put on Facebook, could just as easily be loaded to a blog on their website.

“Never forget, those people who like your Facebook page are not your audience—they’re Facebook’s audience. The only way you can be sure you’re connecting with them regularly is by getting them back to your website to sign up for your newsletter.”

A few years ago, Brown says, you could still do all that for free. Since the various social media have changed their algorithms, it’s harder for companies to reach a large audience organically. Even though it’s now necessary to buy ads on Facebook or Google to get the reach you used to, there are still advantages.

“Digital advertising is far more accountable and trackable now,” Brown explains. “And it still remains cheaper than any other medium. On Facebook, you can ‘boost’ a post to a larger, targeted audience for about US$5.”

The man with the plan

But to get all your digital media initiatives working together requires a plan, Brown adds, which may involve buying ads. Pickett says he doesn’t pay for Google or Facebook ads. “We prefer a much more organic process and rely on the reputation of our food and service to get people in the door,” he says.

Which makes perfect sense—as a restaurateur, he’s focusing on the part of that equation he knows best.

But a good plan, says Brown, should have an outcome in mind and work towards it. Your digital strategy should do the same by making a connection with your audience and utilising it to get your tables booked. Those reaping the benefits of digital marketing realise that what social media and search engines are about is the “reputation” part of Pickett’s observation. “Use them properly,” Brown concludes, “and your reputation will get you even more customers than your food and service.”

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