Use of the social-media photo application Instagram has been filtering into the restaurant business slowly over the past two years, but Facebook’s announcement this week of a $1 billion deal to buy the photo-sharing platform turned more heads.
In addition, the free application was added earlier this month to Google’s Android operating system after spending its first two years as an iPhone-only app. Instagram recently said it has about 30 million registered users.
“A picture really is worth a thousand words,” Daniel Barrett, restaurant and service manager at Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar and Pizzeria Alto in Houston. “It’s a great tool, because food is very much about the visual — how it’s plated, how it looks.”
The Instagram posts have led to incremental sales, Barrett said. “One day we posted a picture of a vegan-friendly pizza, and one of our followers had a Houston vegan website. They reposted the photo, and we got a few people come in because of it.”
The Instagram app allows users to post simultaneously to a choice of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Poseterous and Foursquare.
“It’s uncommon when a brand and social media channel align so naturally both from a business [brand] benefit and social media user scenario perspective,” Pamela Naumes, director of digital for Los Angeles-based Pinkberry, wrote in an email to Nation’s Restaurant News.
She said Pinkberry also capitalizes on the viral nature of the social-media platform.
“There’s great opportunity to reach out to new customers and really leverage this channel as an awareness builder for the brand,” Naumes said.
Nation’s Restaurant News asked restaurant Instagram users for their top tips for using the social media application.
Mama Fu’s Asian House, Albert Im, marketing manager of Austin, Texas-based (@mamafus on Instagram):
Tell a story: In social media, every word counts, Im said. “Think about your audience. Who are they? What do you want them to know about your brand? Mama Fu's Asian House is a fun place for friends and family alike. We create that same environment in our Instagram stream by incorporating photos of our guests and staff whenever we can.”
Reveal: People love to feel included, Im said. “Give your guests an experience beyond the dining room. Are you preparing for a special event? Maybe you're testing a new item in the kitchen. These are all wonderful opportunities to grant behind-the-scenes access to your fans, and they'll love you for it.”
Engage and learn: “The single most important rule of social media is to engage,” Im said. “Interact with your followers: Take the time to visit their feeds and comment on them. This lets people know that you are an active member of this visual community and have a genuine interest in others.”
These interactions also help the restaurant learn about the fans of the brand, and a lot of information can be gleaned from looking at fans’ Instagram feeds for their habits, lives and passions. “Invest some time and get to know your fellow Instagrammers,” Im said. “Doing so will give you a richer understanding of the people that have been nice enough to follow you.”
Ava Kitchen & Whiskey Bar and Pizzeria Alto, Daniel Barrett, restaurant and service manager (@AvaAlto on Instagram):
Remember search: Tagging photos with hashtags makes your posts searchable. “Make sure your tags are relevant to your post, and always post them to Twitter as well,” Barrett said. Keep the description of your photo short and concise. Also remember to not over post.
Post more than just food: “People want to know about the restaurant as a whole,” Barrett said. “Photos of the chefs, restaurant, and people make for interesting posts.” Also don’t be afraid of color as it makes food pop, he said.
Make the posts worthwhile: Play with all the filters Instagram offers, as variety is a good thing, said Barrett. Make sure to provide hyperlinks to your restaurant’s Facebook, Twitter, website and any other online content.
Pinkberry, Pamela Naumes, director of digital (@PinkberrySwirl on Instagram):
Leverage channel strengths: “Understand how and why your customers use Instagram,” Naumes said. “What kind of photos of your brand do Instagrammers post? Deliver an experience based on that learning and don’t forget to curate content that’s original, authentic and brings your brand to life visually. For example, if you’re a food brand, then show foodie and appetite appeal.”
Create contests: “Ask your community to tag your brand photos in Instagram and then integrate them into other social media channels like Facebook, Twitter [and] even your website,” she said. “We love user generated content and often use Instagram photos on Facebook as the ‘Instagram photo of the week.’ We like to celebrate the community and recognize their efforts.”
Engage with your audience: Don’t just post images, connect with the community, Naumes said. “Instagram is passionate,” she said. “Respond to comments, ask questions, follow back, listen and develop a relationship. You’ll earn trust and gain advocates … and learn something new.”