RALEIGH — Aimee Bridges, director of corporate relations for Rocky Top Hospitality, is on Facebook daily, posting the upcoming events of all seven of her companys restaurants including Raleighs popular Tribeca Tavern and Twisted Fork. She uses social media platforms to post specials, highlight events and solicit community support to local charities.
Last week, in advance of a fundraiser for the Special Olympics at Draft Carolina Burgers & Beers on Glenwood Avenue, she tweeted about the event and a raffle for a bike. As customers came in to buy tickets, they did more than buy the restaurants food and beer; they used Foursquare to announce where they were, sent their own tweets, and took pictures to post on Facebook.
Such activity is an affordable way for businesses to use social media to build their brand, says William Blackmon, founder and CEO of Apogee Social Media Group in Raleigh.
Bridges agrees. Its a way for guests to connect to us, she says, explaining that each of Rocky Tops restaurants have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Its also a way to promote how we are working with local farmers and vendors such as beer distributors. Its great for a lot of different things.
But while it is in a companys best interest to have a social media presence, each business owner needs to evaluate what platform is best for them. And they need to be well versed in the nuances of each. What works on Facebook may not be the best approach with Twitter or on Pinterest.
Nor should they assume that just because the sites are free, no cost is involved. But having an employee post, update, tweet or otherwise manage social media accounts has a cost.
Bridges finds herself constantly monitoring the chains reputation, checking online review sites such as Yelp, Kudzu, City Search and Google Places to make sure customers are happy and to help the restaurants fine-tune their operations.
Trust in whats online
A survey by McKinsey & Co. found that two-thirds of big companies use social networks or blogs. And its no wonder, according to yet another survey this one by Nielsens 70 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews. Thats second only to recommendations from people they know.
Six out of 10 U.S. companies now listen to what consumers say about them on social media, and eight out of 10 say they answer clients questions and complaints through social media, according to InSites Consulting, a global marketing research agency.
Wayne Sutton, a start-up adviser and social media guru in San Francisco, says such measures can be cheaper than staffing phone banks with customer service representatives.
Not only can companies find out whats being said about them, they can also see whats being said about their competitors and potentially use it to their advantage. For example, Burger King could potentially lure a McDonalds customer with a coupon if it sees a customer complaint about slow service or bad food.
Businesses can connect
One of the great assets of social media, Blackmon says, is that it gives businesses a chance to connect to different audiences.
For instance, a flower shop could promote upcoming specials using Twitter for Generation Y, post the deals on Facebook with pictures for Generation X, and use newspapers ads or fliers for Baby Boomers. Thats why phonebooks exist: because baby boomers and pre-baby boomers still want it, he says.
Blackmon runs a consulting and training company centered on helping companies leverage social media to get more customers in the door.
He says companies can time specials strategically and then get the word out using Twitter. He says on Fridays, some major pizza chain restaurants start tweeting specials. They know consumers are tired and dont want to come home and cook.
He says companies can buy inexpensive software and time their coupon campaign tweets right around the time customers are thinking about dinner.
Companies also can influence decision-makers by talking about their products on Facebook and Twitter.
Customers are sharing, liking, reviewing and conversing right now, he says. Businesses need to get involved in those conversations to learn what their customers need.