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The Top 10 Social Tools for Restaurant Owners

Getting traffic in the door...


It may be the most difficult part of the foodservice game, and the ways to make it happen are rapidly changing. While word-of-mouth is still the reigning champion in promoting your business, the forms that it comes in varies greatly. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Blogger, and many others are encroaching on the physical person-to-person discussion of where to eat. The greatest benefit of these new digital communications is that you can often drop in on the conversation.

If you have great food, you're already in a prime position to tap into this discussion and further promote your business - chances are, plenty of people are talking about you already. The digitized world is big, though, and it might be hard to know where to start. Let's break it down by service, arranged by how important we think they are to your foodservice operation.

1. Twitter


Twitter is a premier tool to engage with your audiences, and with good reason. With instant responses that can spread through the Twittersphere, your name can be broadcast loud and clear through the internet. It goes without saying that you need to be short and to the point, but being clever and current doesn't hurt, either. To get people to follow you, you need to follow them first; if they don't follow back within a few days, unfollow them and try somebody else. A good goal is to have slightly more followers than people you follow, but it takes some work to get there.
It's easy to get started, just visit Twitter and you just need to provide a name, email, and password.

2. Facebook


The key here is contests and engagement. If you offer a free appetizer coupon for a limited time to people who "like" your page, you're going to be in for a treat yourself. Ruby Tuesday offered 100,000 free burgers by liking their Facebook page and, as of today, they have over 500,000 followers. That's a lot of exposure, and even if every single free burger was given away, there's still money to be made - people tend to bring their friends and will certainly buy some appetizers, sides, and drinks. Make sure you are visiting those who "like" your page and thank them personally. Do this until the volume of likes far exceeds your capacity to personally thank each Facebook friend, and you're well on your way to creating a viral effect.
Starting a Facebook page is simple. Go to Facebook's Create A Page portion of their site, choose Local Business or Place, and it's easy as pie from there on out.

3. YouTube


This is probably the most rewarding outlet in social media; since videos generally have a higher production value compared to the snippets of conversation within other media outlets, they tend to get more attention. Add some behind-the-scenes videos, recipes, or footage from special events. You don't even need to invest in much; just a Flip camera or similar will do fine, and free editing software such as Windows Movie Maker will do for most operations. If you have the budget, the better your videos are, the more attention they seem to accumulate. Keep adding videos every once in a while to keep your channel fresh and leverage your other social media outlets to drive views and interest.
Signing up is simple: visit YouTube, and you can either sign in with an existing Google account, or just give an email, username, and password and you're in.

4. Google+


The new kid on the block is quickly becoming the gorilla in the room. Since, as of right now, Google+ is an invite-only platform, and they don't have any tools for business, you're best hope is to use your operation's Google account to engage users as an unbranded "friend," and hope that they add you to some well-populated circles. The flip-side of the Google+ coin is the user-generated promotion of your site through what Google calls their "+1 Button." Similar to Facebook's "like" button, it generates interest and puts your restaurant's site nearer to the top of the list when people search for places to eat on Google.
Signing up for Google+ is as easy as finding someone who will email you an invite. To do this, appeal to friends, family, and customer's to see if any of them have invites. To add the +1 button to you're website, go to Google's site to get the code. If you're still new to site development and coding, have your website's team do it for you, or your neighbor's kid.

5. LinkedIn


Often viewed as a site to boost your resume, LinkedIn actually has useful tools to keep you connected with colleagues and other business owners. If you're in the foodservice industry, you know there is plenty of healthy competition, but plenty of friendships as well. As you foster these relationships, you may find strength in numbers.
Visit Linked In and put in your first and last name, your email, and a password and you're well on your way.

6. Your Own Site


This is an oft-overlooked tool in your arsenal. The most important part reason for having your own site is that you ultimately determine the content and how it is formatted. Put up your menu, daily deals, and push your Facebook and Twitter. Just having a website adds legitimacy to your business and makes customer's who are looking to try something new visit you in-person; however, having a well-designed and often-updated website can really sway a customer's decision to choose you over the competition.
You can make your own site, even if you are not a web guru. If you visit a hosting platform such as GoDaddy, you can buy a domain, get hosting, and design a basic site all in one day. If you don't have the time to make your own site, there are plenty of web design companies who will take care of all the nerdy tech stuff for you. Do a search to find reputable ones in your area.

7. Groupon


Groupon offers daily deals to a rich database of consumers; they might offer a coupon for $30 worth of product at your establishment for as little as $10. That $10 profit is then split between your business and Groupon. It's much pricier than many of the other social media tools, but the turnout is hard to beat. Just make sure you're ready for the rush, and you can financially support such a loss-leader. The Groupon folks will push you to drive your prices down to nearly nothing, so go into negotiations with a set percentage off that you are willing to settle for. Also, be honest about your chances that this will result in repeat business - will folks come back for more after the initial coupons are used?
Visit Groupon Works for more information about how it works, and then go to the Get Featured section of Groupon's site to apply as a business. The bar to get featured is actually pretty high, you'll need to provide information about your business such as your reviews on Yelp! and City Search (if any).

8. Business Review Sites


We decided to lump these all together. This includes City Search and Merchant Circle, among others. Usually, these sites will allow users to add business themselves, so chances are, you're already on there. Job well done, right? Not quite. Often, you will want to provide additional information that reviewers have not added yet - your menu, average price of food, business hours, additional pictures. The best part about these sites are that people on them are generally genuinely looking for a place to eat; it's free advertising! The downside is that even a few negative reviews can affect your restaurant's business. Often, you are able to respond to customer complaints on these sites, so it is good form to professionally apologize for any inconveniences caused by your establishment and offer for them to try you again (and you may entice them with a free drink or similar). For every customer that puts the effort into adding a review, there are often hundreds who are just looking - it's important to keep up appearances for those potential customers.
As noted before, you are probably already listed. Visit Google Places, Yelp!, Yahoo, Urban Spoon, and the others to make sure you are listed and reviewed well.

9. Blogging


Though we nearly ironically made a blog post about this in the past, it's important enough of a point to be made again. If you feel as though you have the time and the content to update a blog on daily basis, you need to start one. If you have your own website (and you should), Wordpress offers an easy way to start blogging once it's installed. In all reality, it's the only way to go as far as blogging is concerned. It's free, updated constantly to keep pace with current technology, it's simple to use, and versatile.
Just visit Wordpress's site and check out their Famous Five Minute install. If you have any questions, visit our past blog about the subject for more info.

10. Email


Email may be on the back burner in the minds of social media gurus, but it is still a force to be reckoned with. Nearly everyone with access to the internet has an email account. Even if all of the other ways of contacting your customers over the internet fail, if you have an in-store sign asking customer's to sign up for your email marketing campaign in exchange for a free dessert, you are sure to pick up some of the less technically savvy customers you miss with your other online marketing campaigns.
While you can run an email campaign all by yourself, it can become tiresome coming up with new ideas and adhering to good formatting rules. Companies like Constant Contact will help lighten the load for campaigns such as these, for a small monthly fee.

It looks like you have some homework to do! Keeping up on all of these communication outlets can prove time consuming, but if you want to improve foot traffic, they can be a boon to your restaurant business.
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