Program Recap – Eat, Drink and Be Social June 2011

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The local restaurant industry is embracing social media by using Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Foursquare to attract diners and build a brand base. A panel of four social media savvy restaurateurs, moderated by founder Josh Depenbrok, spoke to WMPRSA members and guests at the June 16 program.

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Meet the Panelists:

Darrel Smith, The Image Shoppe (on behalf of Green Well)
As a ‘viral buzzer’ for the Image Shoppe, Darrel coordinates online and direct media, web marketing and social media campaigns for clients. He has the distinct advantage of working in-store for one of his clients, The Green Well, as their Experience Ambassador, which allows him to manage their social marketing from the inside out. When it comes to social media, Darrel believes in quality over quantity.

George Aquino, JW Marriott
It’s no secret that George has a lot of fun at his job, and social media management is no exception! As the hotel’s general manager, George wanted the social media accounts to provide quality and fun content to both local and global JW Marriott clients. The JW’s social media accounts have proven to be successful – the hotel’s first Salsa Pachanga event was promoted solely through Facebook and attracted 700 people!

Heather Halligan – Meritage Hospitality Group (Twisted Rooster)
As the marketing coordinator for Meritage Hospitality Group, Heather helps to develop and implement all marketing aspects for the Twisted Rooster brand. Social media was introduced as an integral part of the brand early on and was used to generate buzz for the opening of the first Twisted Rooster location in Grand Rapids. Heather has been involved in the opening of ten different restaurants and believes that social media made this one the most successful!

Marnie Vander Weide, San Chez Bistro
Marnie developed the San Chez social media accounts about two years ago and has been managing them ever since. Although she had no background in social media, her development of the San Chez brand on Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare has given the restaurant amazing exposure to local diners. Marnie says that she has over 4,000 people per month talking about the restaurant. That’s word of mouth advertising you just can’t buy.


What is your top lesson learned?

Darrel Smith – It’s ok to be transparent. We’ve learned that with social media it’s ok to take a step back and fix your mistakes.

George Aquino – Because we’re a global company, we need to be careful about being offensive to our followers in other countries. To avoid this, we have regular team meetings to discuss global trends and how we can effectively reach all of our audiences.

Heather Halligan – Be genuine. Address consumer issues sincerely and immediately.
Marnie Vander Weide – Don’t just listen to the people who are talking to you, but also listen to the people who are just talking. Through social media, we are able to monitor people who may be looking for a great place to eat or celebrate and direct them to us.

What successes have resulted from your social media campaign?

DS – Definitely our Green Space promotion that we run through our Facebook page. The first to respond to our post (every Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday) gets a reservation for The Green Well “experience.” It not only gives our customers a chance to avoid long lines for the best table in the house, but it also drives traffic to our Facebook page.

GA – We recently had Jason Sadler from I Wear Your Shirt, a project that promotes companies by wearing their shirts, in Grand Rapids for a day. We instantly had funny content and were able to reach a much larger audience. I Wear Your Shirt gained us 600 new fans on Facebook!

HH – Our biggest success through social media was the opening of a new restaurant in the Detroit area. I wasn’t very familiar with Detroit media and used social media to connect with top influencers on the East side of the state. These connections really paid off and got us great publicity!

MV – We created @SCBHost, a twitter account especially for “tweet ahead seating.” Customers are able to tweet their reservation to our hosts in order to avoid a long wait. This account has gotten us a lot of followers and online attention. We were even featured in a webinar for Social Media Examiner!

Which social media applications do you use the most and what is the “voice” of your social media campaign?

DS – We want to fine tune our usage before moving on to other applications, so we stick to Twitter and Facebook. We use Twitter to promote specials and other information that is more immediate. With Facebook we tend to talk about more long-term items.

GA – While our focus is primarily on Twitter and Facebook, we also try to regularly monitor Trip Advisor, FourSquare and Yelp to be sure we are engaging with those customers as well.

HH – I like to post content to our Twitter and Facebook accounts that is upbeat and enthusiastic – we never talk negatively about our competitors. We’ve also been using Yelp and Urban Spoon.

MV – The point of our social media usage is to extend the restaurant experience for our guests. I link my Facebook and Twitter accounts so I often need to be careful about how it may translate. Facebook allows me to post more photos and links, but Twitter lets me have more personal conversations with the community.

How do you balance the frequency of communicating your message without flooding your fans and followers?

DS – Again, it’s quality over quantity for us. We try to only post content when it’s relevant and interesting.

GA – One of the mistakes I see other establishments making is that they aren’t posting enough, especially for days at a time. Our audience is global, which means we have new people looking at our accounts almost every hour. We try to post at least once a day to ensure our information is reaching that larger audience.

HH – At first we were using a trial and error method, but then we decided that a marketing strategy was needed to determine who was looking at our information and when. This strategy is constantly evolving, but we try to post two to three times per day unless something exciting is happening.

MV – Our strategy is very adaptive. I am the only person who posts content and I try to respond to people immediately and post content at least once a day. However, if I don’t have anything interesting to say, then I’m not going to post anything.

About Derek DeVries

A communications / public relations / social media pro in West Michigan trying to get past the beta version of his life cycle.
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