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Did He Just Say Restaurant Wars? Part I

It sounds like another terrible idea for a show on Food Network (and it may already be), but I've recently been told that there is a war going on between equipment suppliers and restauranteurs. Seriously?

I was under the impression that the "Mission Accomplished" sign on the deck of the Lincoln meant that major combat operations had ceased. My mistake. There is still down and dirty forum to forum and Twitter to Twitter fighting going on in the province of Social Media. Casualties are mounting on both sides but this is a war that will continue on for many years to come. Our leadership sees this as a war that must be won while a small restaurant insurgency is hell-bent on raising skepticism and question about our motives.

Is this really how the relationship between equipment suppliers and restaurants perceived? Are we really the bad-guy, strolling into a forum or social media network like a conquering army? Yes. Well, at least that's been standard operating procedure for our industry since its introduction to Twitter, FaceBook, and open forums. From a distance our industry's foray into social media looks like a Remarque title. But as you look closer, there is a battle raging. Social media sites have become a combat zone where a constant struggle between shameless sales posts and actual opinionated content rages on. It becomes harder and harder to sift through the Spam on sites that were originally designed as a place for people who share a similar interest to share their stories, opinions, or expertise.

Over the past few weeks I've been doing a lot of research and even a little soul searching. How do I increase customers and convert tweets into sales? When do we start to see revenue from FaceBook? Which is the best way for REW to gain from Social Media? I was deeply misinformed. The answer to these questions is the simple fact that social media doesn't work in the way that most businesses think. We can't just make accounts and expect people to come running to us. We also can't expect to solely post products or sales and expect listeners to hang on our every word. Johnson and Westmoreland were right, winning hearts and minds is key to the success of any campaign- whether in conflict or social media. Potential customers will never convert to actual customers if we pillage and plunder the Internet or constantly announce ourselves to a quite room. Our behavior online has only served to fuel the fire.

Think of it this way. Have you ever been downtown and heard some guy touting Jesus and how you're living a life of sin from a bullhorn? Do you ever stop to listen and take him seriously? Do you ever wonder to yourself that maybe he's right and you should change your lifestyle immediately? Of course not. You say to your friends loudly, "That guy's #*@%ing crazy" and go on about your business. The same concept applies to the Internet. No one wants to listen if you don't have something important to say. And in what older people call "the information age" word travels fast- especially if you're lame. Look at Star Wars Kid. Sitting on Twitter or FaceBook for 8 hours a day announcing daily specials or how customers can save is going to get you nowhere and it will do so in a way that ruins whatever reputation you thought your company had online.

We as suppliers need to give back. We work in the same industry as restaurants- we even help them get started, so we should know a thing or two about the business. Or at least fake it. REW especially, has over 30 years of experience in this field. I recently tried to convey the fact that we've seen and done it all, or at least know someone who has on an open forum but was met with stiff skepticism. We face the daunting challenge of changing the way we are perceived in our industry and it's online community. I'm not suggesting a full defection, but merely a change in strategy. The world sees us as product-toting sales mongers who want nothing more than to swoop in on a discussion and make a quick buck. That's not who we are- we're not that guy. We are not a restaurant's online enemy.

Social media is no place for REW- if we have the mindset of Willy Loman. We are in a position where we can contribute to the greater good. Will we make direct sales? Probably not. Will we establish relationships that have the potential to generate a new customer? If we play our cards right. The tools to build a reputation as a wealth of industry knowledge are in our hands. And we're going to use them.

Let's do something that this industry has never seen before. Let's offer advice and assistance to those who need it without a shameless plug or product link. Let's be the one used car salesman who says "This car was owned by a little old lady- but she drove the hell out of it." Let honesty and altruism be our policy. Let Spam remain a mystery meat.

If there is a restaurant war still going on, we've been tasked with the most difficult mission. It's up to us to change the face of our industry and re-vamp the way we view social media marketing. I can hear Norman Cota and he's saying, "REW lead the way."

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