Social media marketing can be incredibly rewarding for restaurants if used properly. In fact, restaurants are ideally suited to social media marketing in many ways. Just consider all those food lovers taking pictures of their plates to show off to friends and family. The stats make a pretty clear case for why restaurants should use social media, but let’s also look at the “how”.

Social media has serious reach

The latest figure for the number of social media users worldwide is 4.55 billion, according to DataReportal. That accounts for 57.6% of the world’s population. As far as potential reach is concerned on social media, the sky’s the limit. And while the number of users is impressive, it’s the way in which they’re using social media that is especially important for restaurants to take note of.

“Nearly three out of four customers (72%) have used Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions,” >writes Dr Gary Edwards of Empathica Consumer Insights in Canada, “based on comments and images that have been shared by other users.”

It’s becoming a matter of routine for most people to search for a restaurant online before deciding whether or not to eat there. Research from MGH found that nearly 80% (77%) of those surveyed said they were likely to visit a restaurant’s website before making a decision – and that’s sure to extend to a restaurant’s social media pages.

And that trend is only picking up steam as younger generations of diners gain more spending power because Gen Z and Millennials are 99% more likely to rely on social media and online reviews than Gen X and Boomers, according to figures from ChatterMatters.

The best way to embrace social media

The first step up from having no social media presence at all, is a spartan page that features your logo, your menu, address, contact information and little more. Those who treat social media as a tick-box exercise would be inclined to leave it there, but they miss the enormous potential social media marketing holds for acquiring new customers and building a base of loyal fans.

To take it to the next level, you should remember that you’re not only selling food, you’re also selling an experience and your social pages can be an extension of it. Try to make your page as appealing as your food. Use strong, high-quality imagery to showcase mouth-watering meals perfectly presented or show smiling staff ready to welcome customers. You can even use video or 360-degree images to showcase your décor, ultra-modern kitchen, or maybe the beauty of your location. Whatever strengths you have to offer, social media is the place to show them off and really put your best foot forward.

Aim to create posts that reflect the persona of your brand. A bit of humour usually goes a long way, or perhaps you want to focus on a warm and inviting message. Try to engage with customers as often as you can, even (or especially) if they aren’t happy about something.

Handling complaints

Social media will hold a business to account if patrons aren’t having a good time. You need to respond to complaints appropriately, but doing so will demonstrate that you respect your customers and are serious about delivering the highest standards possible. You can improve trust through transparency by simply choosing to respond rather than rushing to delete a negative review or complaint.

And, encouragingly for those concerned about the potential for negativity on social platforms, only 26% of consumers avoid a brand based on a negative online review, Dr Edwards reports.

The social media sweet spot

Ideally, your customers can help to do your marketing for you via social media with the images and posts they share (termed user-generated content). You can help to encourage such brand advocates by amplifying their message or even incentivising them with a promotion or competition. You could even get creative with a campaign structured around it – the social media world is your oyster.

Social media marketing is becoming increasingly important, like many of the other technologies impacting the restaurant industry. To learn more about them, download our guide on five strategies to future-proof your restaurant.