We read a lot about how important social media is to promoting and marketing your business and brand. But what does that really mean? If you have thousands of Facebook fans does that mean you are successful? If you "tweet" something once a week is that enough?
In my book, A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business, I talk a lot about the importance of creating a culture of caring and collaboration in my restaurant, Nick's Pizza & Pub, and in the community. But creating an online culture is just as important in this digital age, especially if your employees, customers or both are fluent in the social media world.
At both Nick's locations, we have a strong core of regulars. But I had to work hard to build a core group of regulars online as well. Our team, the majority under 25 years of age, and many in their teens, taught me a lot about social networks. Here are some best practices I learned when it comes to turning high-volume guests into Facebook fans.
Assign someone to social media. Though we have limits on cell phone usage during work, we don't prohibit our team members from checking their Facebook pages. When I noticed one server, Brett, checking a little more than normal, I decided to take a channeling rather than chastising approach. I asked him if he wanted to manage the restaurant's Facebook page-and get paid for it.
Still, we put some structure around the job-this helps create the type of performance results we want on a consistent basis, and ensure that any strategy in this regard becomes part of our culture. That said, we ask that Brett post twice a day, before lunch and dinner, and that he sends us a weeks' worth of content a few days in advance to make sure we're on the same page.
Keep your different "languages" consistent. We post our purpose and values all over our restaurant and on our marketing materials. But it's important to maintain that consistent language online.
Be transparent online. We advocate transparency, honesty and an "open books" policy at our restaurant, so it's important we maintain transparency online as well. Rather than restrict Brett, we invite him to talk about our brand openly because we have nothing to hide. On the flipside, with the growth of user review sites (such as Yelp), we find that our guests also like to be transparent. We try to respond to as many of our guests' comments as possible, including both positive and negative remarks. Instead of blocking or erasing negative comments, we own up to our mistakes on Facebook or Yelp and take steps to improve, which helps build trust and loyalty among guests beyond our restaurant doors.
Keep your content open-ended. Instead of asking, "Are you coming in for Labor Day?" or another yes/no question, we try to use open-ended inquiries to encourage a discussion among our guests and Facebook fans. We might write, "What are you looking forward to this Labor Day weekend?" The questions don't have to relate back to the restaurant-they just need to spark a dialogue-this opens the doors to learning more about each other and building followers in and outside the restaurant. When it comes to photos, we allow everyone to post their own photos; I believe the reason we never have a problem with inappropriate photos is because we set the same tone on FB as we have in our restaurants-that we are a fun, family-friendly organization.
Use interactivity to bring your FB fans into your business. During last year's holiday season, we asked our FB fans to write a holiday-friendly jingle and bring it into the restaurant. To our surprise, the activity turned into an in-store sing along. We had guests who didn't even know each other singing each others' jingles one evening in the restaurant. Opening the door to bring an activity that starts on FB into your company's place of business bridges the gap between the online world and the real one.
About the author
Nick Sarillo is the founder and CEO of Nick's Pizza & Pub in Crystal Lake and Elgin, Ill., and the author of "A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business".