Being online can be the single most important resource in terms of sourcing advertising, marketing and engagement information.
Being online can be the single most important resource in terms of sourcing advertising, marketing and engagement information.

Online marketing is no longer just an option—it’s a necessity. So how do you get it right? Chris Sheedy investigates

Two years ago, when Jamie Borruso launched his restaurant Lucky Tsotsi in one of Australia’s most competitive restaurant neighbourhoods—Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street in Sydney—he knew exactly how to get in touch with his customer base. He had tracked and analysed them over the past month using technological tools that just five years ago were the stuff of science fiction. He knew their locations and their preferences. He knew when they liked to visit and when they stayed away. He also had a good idea of the sort of information they liked to share with their friends

Rather than being a stalker or a spy, Borruso was, of course, on social media. He says the online environment was the single most important resource in terms of sourcing advertising, marketing and engagement information and leads before and after the launch of his restaurant.

“Online was vital because that is where my community was,” Borruso, who recently sold Lucky Tsotsi but also owns Borruso’s Pizza & Pasta restaurant in Sydney’s Northbridge, says. “To find your community, you first have to define your customer and their demographic, then market research where they hang out online, because online is where a lot of decisions are made these days.”

After spending time reaching out and communicating with individuals and groups on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and other social media platforms, Borruso narrowed down the main focus to Facebook after it resulted in the greatest engagement. But various channels were used for linking and online networking in order to expand the reach and awareness of the new eatery. Borruso also employed the services of Noosa-based Social Tap, a specialist marketing firm servicing the hospitality, tourism and events industries.

“The value of such a third party comes with the consistency of communication they are able to provide,” Borruso explains. “If you’re running a restaurant you probably don’t have time to provide consistent messaging and communication. But if you’re not consistent then you won’t get anywhere.”

Social Tap director Michelle Mason says she has seen a major shift in the hospitality industry’s interest in online marketing over the past 18 months. “It has gone from a ‘nice to have’ attitude to a ‘how do we do it?’ attitude,” Mason says. “Online was once in the too-hard basket, but not anymore. Businesses are able to figure out where they need to be in terms of social media platforms, and how their website needs to behave in order to engage and attract customers.”

There are several areas to be considered separately when planning online marketing, experts say. The business’s website, for instance, is the one platform that can be completely controlled and managed by the restaurant itself. But if it is not ‘responsive’—in other words, if its template doesn’t automatically adapt across various screen sizes (smartphones, tablets, desktops, etc)
—then you are immediately behind the eight ball.

A huge amount of dining decisions are made on a smartphone screen as people are out and about and looking for somewhere to eat, says Quentin Aisbett from OnQ Marketing, a digital marketing and web design agency based in Melbourne and Geelong. “People will search when they are out and looking for a cafe or somewhere to have a drink,” he says. Anecdotal evidence suggests well over 50 per cent of online decisions about dining are made on mobile screens.

“If the user can’t find you on their mobile browser then they won’t come to your restaurant,” Aisbett says. “If they do find your site but don’t enjoy the experience then they won’t come to your restaurant. And they’ll likely never return to your website if faced with the choice in the future.”

Essential to having good visibility online is having a presence through local directories with far greater sway over Google’s search rankings, such as Yelp, Hotfrog and Urbanspoon.

And whether you love them or hate them, review sites such as Eatability and Urbanspoon also have a major impact on decision making. It is vital that your staff are trained to be fully aware of the potential influence and power wielded by every customer that walks through the door.

“If you are going to get it right then you need to make it a part of your business’s DNA,” Mason says. “Any single person within your business could hurt your brand thanks to review sites. Consumers are powerful. All of your staff need to understand how their actions can influence customers, and how influential customers are online.

“Online, put simply, provides insight into your business. And it is not about who has the largest number of likes. It’s about building advocates for your business, people who love what you do,  are happy to spread the word, who will book their birthday party at your venue and tell their friends too.”

Quentin Aisbett agrees: “Established restaurants—the ones that often think they don’t need social media—have a loyal customer base that spreads word of mouth,” he says. “But social media turns them into true business and brand advocates. Instead of them telling one or two people, they are telling 100 or 500 people at a time.”

Finally, experts say online is not a set-and-forget option. A couple of hours each week, at least, will be required to ensure it is engaging, regularly refreshed and used wisely. Borruso, when he ran Lucky Tsotsi, realised early on that humour worked well in engaging his audience. Others find recipes, images of food on plates, or introductions to staff members, work well. Whatever you do, do it consistently and wisely.

“You must provide insight and value,” Aisbett says. “The customers are letting you in to their personal life. Don’t abuse this relationship by treating it as a promotional platform or you’ll lose fans. Offer authentic insight and exclusivity, such as inside information they wouldn’t have got unless they liked your Facebook page. Provide them with something to share with others, something that will make them look good, and they will pay you back with loyalty and support.”

Now is the time to your social media up to scratch, we recommend using this step-by-step guide to get started.

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