With 40 million registered users, Vine, a mobile app for creating 6-second videos, has quickly become a powerful tool for marketing everything from consumer packaged goods to tourist destinations. Factor in more than 150 million users of Instagram’s photo and video sharing app and 70 million users of the virtual pinboard Pinterest and there is no questioning the popularity and power of social visual marketing. For the hospitality industry, these tools offer opportunities to increase customer engagement and boost and reward loyalty.
Gone are the days of being told not to play with your food. At fast-food chains and fine dining establishments alike guests are being encouraged to take pictures of their food and tweet about their experiences. While it may seem counterintuitive to take your steak’s photograph, those seconds spent snapping, posting and tagging could earn you a free dessert or invitation to a special chef’s tasting.
For restaurants, these popular tools offer opportunities to leverage customers as brand ambassadors, build loyal online audiences and encourage repeat business. While some restaurants tier their social media perks based on size of audience, others tie them to frequency of visits and online influence metrics.
So how are restaurants and cafes engaging patrons through social media? Starbucks recently launched @tweetacoffee, a Twitter-based coffee gifting program, which encourages relationship-building among social users by allowing folks to give e-gift cards with just one tweet. This new initiative makes it easy for followers to engage with the brand and monetizes Starbucks’ social presence while laying the foundation for increased customer loyalty and positive brand associations. Who wouldn’t feel better if a friend answered their ‘Worst morning ever’ tweet with a freshly-brewed Starbucks?
Lessons learned? Engage with online audiences. Encourage and reward loyalty. Understand what motivates online audiences to become and remain brand loyal.
Whether it’s something as simple as asking fans where they envision traveling or challenging them to complete a scavenger hunt and chronicle their discoveries, there is tremendous opportunity for hotels on social media.
Affinia, among other brands, does a great job of building relationships with customers via social media. A quick glance at the @affiniahotels Twitter stream reveals countless two-way conversations with guests covering everything from how they found the check-in experience to offering personal phone calls to assist in resolving room service issues.
Lessons learned? Ask for feedback. Celebrate positive experiences. Work to correct negative experiences. Show that your brand is listening and values customer feedback.
Social Media offers tourists the unique opportunity to experience a destination before they even arrive. While some may contend this dilutes the in-person experience, it can also heighten excitement and generate online conversation in the days/weeks/months leading up to a trip. In just seconds, tweeting ‘Can’t wait to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge’ can become a multi-user conversation about the best places to visit on either side of the bridge, including where to dine and stay.
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation has successfully leveraged social media as a tool for making tourists feel as tuned-in as native Philadelphians. Through its ‘uwishunu’ blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, visitors can get the inside scoop on the latest events and attractions. By treating tourists as insiders, visitors feel not only well-informed but appreciated.
Lessons learned? Show appreciation for online audiences. Make your social media marketing experiential. Offer perks that motivate brand loyalty.
Risks and Rewards
While leveraging social media marketing to deepen engagement and reward loyalty has it perks, real-time marketing has its challenges, particularly for restaurants. Let’s say a guest comes in and decides to photograph their desert and post it to Instagram and Facebook. Whether it was the lighting at their table, the filter they applied to the image or just an unfortunate angle, that photo is floating in the social media universe for all to see regardless of whether it is mouth-watering or appetite squelching.
For some establishments the implications of one bad photo can be greater than others. The important thing is to have a plan in place for generating a real-time response — be it responding with a better photo accompanied by a witty comment or thanking the customer for engaging and letting the image slide by. Regardless, it’s all about leveraging enticing visuals and a little bit of creativity to cultivate and retain loyal customers and boost ROI.
Danielle Cyr is the senior director of integrated marketing for Co-Communications, a full-service marketing and public relations agency with offices in New York and Connecticut.