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Webinar: Social media works best when restaurants keep it simple

Restaurant chains hoping to capitalize on the “social” aspect of social media need to target the right interactions online and avoid doing too much, said two marketing executives during “The Rules of Customer Engagement: Using Social Media to Leverage Brand Advocates,” a webinar presented by Empathica.

The Tuesday presentation by the customer experience management firm, with U.S. offices based in Alpharetta, Ga., discussed best practices from two client brands, the 514-unit Boston Market and the 430-unit Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Ron Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief of Nation’s Restaurant News, moderated the discussion.

Lyndsi Partin, senior marketing manager for Red Robin, and John Edward Jones, vice president of operations systems for Boston Market, both stressed the importance of not “over-messaging” social-media fans and followers when trying to make consumers restaurant brand ambassadors. Indiscriminately tweeting and posting could cause brands to neglect feedback, showing a lack of social-media strategy, they said.

“When engaging in social media, start small, prioritize and continually monitor it,” Partin advised. “It needs to be something you monitor all the time, and the cost isn’t necessarily money, but what you put into it.”

Gary Edwards, executive vice president of client services for Empathica, remarked that social-media users dedicate significant amounts of time across several channels. On average, a person spends 14 hours a week using social media, and Facebook users average three to four 15-minute visits per day.

The most important thing for restaurants to convey is that they’re listening to guests and that they’re responding quickly, the panelists said.

“The amount of interaction is appropriate to answering guest concerns and questions,” Boston Market’s Jones said. “If there’s a great deal of activity around an issue, as long as guests having those conversations feel there’s a response and that something’s happening as a result, that’s appropriate. Beyond that, there’s a tendency to over-promise and not deliver.”

Brands need to find the right balance and uses for the different social-media platforms, panelists said.

“We’re messaging differently on each channel,” Red Robin’s Partin said. “We use Twitter for short, frequent messages and Facebook for longer posts that go out less frequently, and YouTube hosts our commercials and other videos.”

Both Red Robin and Boston Market have reported success with Empathica’s GoRecommend application, which not only collects survey data and guest perceptions from restaurant guests, but also allows those customers to share their feedback directly to their Facebook profiles and publicly recommend a restaurant brand.

Boston Market allows users to include a coupon that gets displayed with their Facebook recommendation, and a pilot test of the application revealed that for every one user that recommended Boston Market, four coupons on average would be redeemed by that first person’s friends who saw the post.

“These things have to be planned and handled with care, but they do produce a tremendous reaction among both our loyal guests and new users,” Jones said. “The risk is always that the coupons could be copied, but the return is so great that it’s still worth doing it.”

Red Robin currently does not use the coupon feature in the recommendation application, though it does use social media to promote limited-time offers at lower price points, Partin said. The main goal for using GoRecommend is to capitalize on favorable experiences in the restaurants and to let that conversation grow organically, she added.

As Red Robin’s following on Facebook has grown, the chain has found that its brand advocates often respond to questions and complaints as quickly as the restaurant’s officials.

“We have a loyal following, so our guests often defend us before we need to respond,” Partin said. “We can’t satisfy everyone, but for the most part, we turn around most of those experiences by responding quickly to complaints and negative comments.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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