As a restaurant owner, connecting with your customers is critical to staying top-of-mind with them and to keep the relationships strong. Is social media the best way to do this, and how much should you be investing?

Major chain restaurants have been increasing their spending on social media, allocating bigger teams to work the channels (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and FourSquare) and investing in apps and new technologies to stay ahead of the curve. Sure that makes sense for restaurants with hundreds of locations and million dollar budgets, but to the small, independent restaurant operator social media should be just one of the many tools in your promotional toolbox.

Why? Nearly half of consumers use a combination of search and social media to fuel their purchasing decisions, says a new study by comScore and search marketing specialist Group M Search. The report showed that a whopping 86 percent of consumers say search engines are very important in the decision process, while just one percent use social media alone. 

Additionally, Hiscox, a small business insurance company, recently published a survey of 304 small business leaders to find out more about their social media use. Only 12 percent of respondents described social media promotion as a “must” for their businesses, with 47 percent of SMBs admitting that they still don’t use social media at all for business purposes.

Should these stats stop your dive into the pool of social media for your restaurant?
There is not a single or universal answer for this question. Like with all marketing and branding investments and opportunities, it depends on your unique situation.

Since setting up social media accounts are free and societies around the globe are becoming a digitally-driven dialogue world, I believe all restaurants should have the basic accounts established and view this time investment as important as having your phone number listed in directory assistance.

When I say have the basic accounts established, at the time of this writing, I’m referring to:
A Facebook page
This is the free commercial account. Use your logo as your art. Provide the same basic info like you would post on your website. Type of restaurant, address, phone, hours of operation, reservation policies etc. If you have good photos of your place and food, post those too. If you can’t figure this out, hire a student for a few bucks and they can help you.

Twitter account
This is the free account and simple to set up. Again use your logo as your art and try to get your handle (that’s your account name) as close to your real restaurant’s name. Even if you don’t tweet often, securing your name ASAP is important. This will prevent someone else from nabbing it. Set up your profile information using keywords that someone looking for you might use. Location of your restaurant, type of food etc.

LinkedIn account
This is the free account and also simple to set up. I recommend setting up two accounts. One for your business and one for you personally.

The business account again is just a free opportunity to be online and provide your basic info. Your personal account is just like a big digital Rolodex and allows you to join industry and business groups that can serve as good resources for a variety of things from finding vendor contacts to recruiting talent.

After these basic accounts are set up, how much time should a restaurant invest in populating content on each one? That depends on the answers to these questions.

5 questions to help guide your social media program and investment

1) Does your clientele use social media?
If they don’t, I would not spend a lot of time here. I would stick to communication means that works for you. If your clientele does use social media, then I would come up with a content game plan based on the news and activities about your establishment. And invest time based relative to what it brings you in returns.

2) Does your restaurant have a lot of news worthy activities going on?
If it does, then social media can be a place to get the word out. When I say news worthy activities, I’m talking about community events, special promotions, getting PR from restaurant reviews and getting other types of publicity in broadcast or print media. Or if your chef is news worthy, he or she can be a streams of content too.

3) Do you have cost-effective means to manage your social media?
Marketing of any kind needs to be cost-effective and produce results like new customers, or strengthen customer loyalty etc. So if you or a staffer is spending 10 hours a month on non-tangible, soft pubic relations efforts that’s OK. But if it’s sucking 100 hours a month and if you stopped today and your sales figures are the same. This may not be the best use of time.

4) Do you have the right social media person to be the voice of the restaurant brand?
Should you decide to invest in social media this is key. All content posting is not created equal. You want to make sure your social media postings are “on brand” and consistent with your desired image and reputation. If you are outsourcing this task it’s a good idea to approve content in bulk, in advance. This can ensure this person or team is building your brand up and not bringing it down.

5) Have you set up ways to promote your social media channels?
It will do you no good to have social media accounts set up if your customers, employees, the media and  vendors don’t know about them. If social media is part of your marketing mix, make it easy for people to connect with you. Make sure the social media buttons are on your website and working. Add them to your menus, as people often connect via their smart phones and tell your customers too.

I love social media and I use it a lot for my business. My social media activity helps my search engine results, which does impact my business. But social media is not a one size fits all solution for all businesses. Just like you do with all business decisions, weigh out the cost (and time is not free) with the results, if the math works do it, if not do what works for you.

For more on social media for your restaurant, check out the Social media primer ta-do list.

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