Opening a cafe or restaurant used to mean laying down some cash to get the word out. Newspaper ads, fliers and a press party were required to kick things off. But today, three free social media platforms can do nearly the same job: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Word of mouth can make or break your food service business, and social media gives you the potential to reach hundreds (thousands?) of potential customers every day with minimal effort—and mostly for free.
Most importantly, you can differentiate your content from the competition to increase the click-through rate (CTR), comments and shares on your posts.
Following are strategies for making it happen:
Posting the right way at the right time
- Include a link to your coffee shop website in each post, and increase your success with the following tactics:
- Post in the afternoons and evenings, and on weekends to increase your CTR.
- Use calls to action—verbs and adverbs—to get followers to comment on your post, visit your shop, etc.
- Place links one-quarter of the way through each post, when relevant, for a higher CTR.
- Use photos of your food, drinks, staff, customers (with permission), their dogs, etc. (more on this below).
- Search social media platforms and hashtags on a weekly basis for posts about your business. Repost them to draw attention to your social media presence.
Use a social media scheduling tool
Instead of logging into your social accounts a few times every day so you can post sporadically (and avoid being unfollowed), use social media software to schedule your posts. HootSuite, SocialOomph and Sprout Social are widely used and reliable.
Follow backs, contests and giveaways
Following food lovers and lifestyle bloggers (local and national) and commenting on and sharing their posts will get you some follow backs. Share their posts when you like what they've had to say. If possible, add something of value to your repost. These experts and influencers will soon see you as someone who adds value to the culinary conversation, and that you're not solely promoting your business.
Another easy way to gain social media traction is with contests and giveaways. Offer a free lunch or dinner to a random follower who reposts your message. Post a trivia question and give a gift certificate to the first person to answer correctly. People will notice, and follow you.
Keep it real
If all you do is promote your business, you'll lose followers. Yet the public's interest in chefs, bartenders, food and restaurants continues to grow. Humanize your social media feeds and your business by posting about the ephemera of daily ins and outs of serving the public your carefully crafted goods.
People want to hear about customer interactions, and fun facts about your industry, coffee or other menu items, etc. When an employee says something funny or insightful, post that too.
Hashtag it and they will come
Promoting a new drink special or tasting event? Create a unique hashtag that your followers, and those who might be searching for you, can find easily. Also make use of popular “trending now” hashtags (#foodie, #arabica, #pastries, #espressofiend—and even #tbt, #photooftheday, #happy, etc.) that are relevant to your business and/or to your target customers' lifestyle, so more people will see your post.
Use Images and Video
As the saying goes, we eat first with our eyes. And social media users are four times as likely to engage with photo or video post than one that's just a smattering of words.
Post beautiful photos of your drinks or food to bring in customers, and add visual interest with photos of your restaurant, menu and special events. Get creative with:
- Photo galleries that highlight several photos (menu items, daily specials, staff members)
- Short videos – 30 seconds or less (testimonials, latte art)
Make Yourself Available
Check direct messages and replies to your posts to further humanize your social media presence. Digital marketing has an immediacy that requires responsiveness.
If you have "breaking" news to share, even better. If you just developed a new drink, announce a special to encourage your followers to come in and order it. Or, if your popular menu items tend to run out, update your followers as soon as it happens and offer a different special in the same post. It will demonstrate that people love your offerings so much that you can't keep them in stock, and you'll build goodwill by keeping your followers in the loop and offering them an alternative.
People might tell you when you’re doing a great job—but they love telling you when you’ve screwed up. It's your job to take the good with the bad and turn it around.
Consider writing a training manual for how to respond to comments received in-person or online about customer service, food quality, cleanliness, etc. If you fix things right then and there, the problem won’t linger or take on a life of its own.
As powerful as social media is, it takes time to build a following. It comes from consistently following the objectives above, and by delivering great customer service at your physical location and online. And with more social media users signing up every day, you have more opportunities all the time to build your coffee shop or restaurant business.