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Three steps to a successful social media strategy

The most important thing brands have forgotten regarding social media is it’s supposed to be “social”. Instead of asking what you need to tell your customers you should ask: “What’s happening in my customer’s world and how can I be part of it in a way that’s in keeping with my brand?”

Social media is rapidly becoming the most powerful marketing tool for the hospitality industry and yet it’s often left to flounder without a proper strategy, direction or specific resource to allow it to thrive.

A successful social media strategy in the hospitality sector can be split into three areas – managing your community, building a consistent narrative and creating compelling content.

Community management

Traditionally, community management has meant dealing with negative feedback but what community management should mean is engaging with your audience in a genuine, honest way and considering how you can enhance an in-restaurant experience through social media. Always start with your audience – social media is firstly about them, not you.

Ask genuine questions and genuinely listen – bring your audience with you wherever you can. If you’re developing a new menu why not host a live Q&A or ask for suggestions via Instagram stickers? Instagram is constantly evolving and delivering new features that allow more and more human interactions. Use them. There’s no quicker way to hack the engagement algorithm than doing exactly what the platform wants.

Empower your teams: Your floor teams are the closest people to your customers. Empower them to use social media and work with your marketing team to deliver real-life experiences. Almost half (47%) of millennials confess to using their phone while eating – whether posting to Instagram, tweeting or texting. Track what people are saying about your brand when they’re dining – perhaps someone has checked into your restaurant and it’s their birthday? With that information you can quickly and easily enhance their experience. Or perhaps you’re looking at your brand’s hashtag and someone in the restaurant has posted something negative? You now have the opportunity to right a wrong before the customer leaves the table.

Consistency

Work to a schedule: It’s basic but is the most important thing you can do to build a genuine connection. Each social platform holds data on when your audience is most active. Use this to set a realistic posting schedule for all your channels, and stick to it. If you don’t have a dedicated social media resource in your team, split the load between a network of social media “champions”.

Tone of voice: Build a tone of voice that resonates with your audience and reflects your brand, and stick to it in every post. A meandering narrative in one post shouldn’t give way to a three-word sentence and a full stop in the next. St John has created something rare on Instagram – a cult following and ferociously loyal fan base that’s driven largely by a carefully curated and consistent tone of voice. It has a whimsical knack for storytelling that pins its owner and founder, Fergus Henderson, at the centre of everything it does.

Content

This is the one all marketers dive into first and it usually comes with the suggestion “let’s create a video campaign about the story behind the brand”. Sometimes this is the right idea but, more often than not, it’s a costly, misplaced and self-indulgent approach to social media. A great content strategy encompasses video, stills, image galleries and GIFs and can be split into three categories:

Thought leadership: Shareable content that’s wider than just the brand but connected to your ethos. Riverford uses beautifully curated photos of farming and produce with a text overlay to highlight environmental and agricultural issues. Nando’s – arguably the most successful high-street chain when it comes to social media – has nailed its content strategy by truly understanding its customer. It plays on love for the brand through funny, shareable memes.

Original brand content: This is where you can get creative with your core brand values. High-quality video content will always be king in terms of reach but cost is high. Make the most out of your still assets and look to GIFs for a low-cost solution. Hospitality brands often focus on food imagery, which might ramp up the likes but don’t forget your overall proposition. Nine out of ten times the reason for eating out isn’t just sustenance, it’s a special occasion, date, family time or celebration. Emotive content about overall experience may resonate better.

User-generated content: This is the holy grail of social media. Guests sharing their own experience is the most powerful tool in your arsenal. It’s 20% more effective than branded content in terms of reach and engagement and improves your SEO. Setting up competitions at the table that encourage posting or creating hashtags allows you to engage with your customers on an ongoing basis. Communicating when your guests are on-site is a great way to build an organic social following and create brand advocates.

If you find yourself floundering and scrambling for content to post – stop, think about your customer and reset.

Rosie Prior is brand and digital manager at Petersham Nurseries and an RMI 30 under 30 lister for 2019