Restaurants must consider the whole customer experience to leverage the full power of photo-sharing app Instagram, a social media researcher said.
A recent study from social marketing platform MomentFeed found the highest rates of Instagram engagement among mostly upscale-casual restaurant brands, where the décor and service loom just as large in photos as the food.
MomentFeed analyzed all Instagram photos taken from Dec. 14 – Dec. 31, 2012, that were tagged to a specific location for 30 large restaurant brands.
Judging by the average number of Instagram photos per location, all but one of the top 10 finishers were casual-dining chains, led by upscale-casual brand The Cheesecake Factory, with 26.2 photos per location. BJ’s, with 22.8 photos per location, and Seasons 52, with 13.3 photos per location, also cracked double digits.
The Capital Grille and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro finished next, followed by Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Fox & Hound. Larger dinnerhouse brands Olive Garden and Buffalo Wild Wings followed. Frozen-yogurt chain Yogurtland was the first non-casual chain to appear, at No. 10.
“Obviously, casual dining has a more conducive atmosphere for Instagram photos than quick service, and you’ll have a high correlation between Instagram photos and engaging experiences,” said Rob Reed, chief executive of MomentFeed. “But any brand in any category can easily encourage more of this activity, and it’s easy to incentivize.”
The largest quick-service chains did not fare as well in MomentFeed’s report, with Dunkin’ Donuts’ 0.25 Instagram photos per location finishing just ahead of 0.21 for Taco Bell, 0.19 for McDonald’s, 0.13 for Wendy’s and 0.1 for Dairy Queen.
Snapping into it
Cultivating Instagram engagement is worthwhile because it encourages restaurant traffic, and the shared nature of those photos creates thousands of social media impressions, Reed said.
Several brands are beginning to use promotions that encourage customers to take more Instagram photos at their restaurants or share them on Facebook and Twitter pages. Last month, Dunkin’ Donuts began its “UpgraDDe Your Sandwich” contest, where users took Instagram or Twitter photos of homemade lunches in need of upgrading with an “#upgraDDe” hash tag. The brand selected winners for Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards from those entries.
This week, Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, a 23-unit chain based in Portsmouth, N.H., released a 10-item limited-time menu called “Nuevos Platos Mexicanos,” and integrated a photo-sharing twist. The menu doubles as a silly mask that guests can lift to their face to look like a mustachioed cartoon character, which officials hope will get customers to take and share pictures through social media.
Dan Lederer, the chain’s self-described “super genius,” said the photo-sharing element was not specifically designed for Instagram, as Margaritas is still figuring out best practices for the platform. But the brand did make sure to have a prominent “Share the ’stache” call to action on the menu, as well as a “#NewMoustache” hash tag if guests posted pictures to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
The ideal outcome for Margaritas is that the menu, adorned with the Margaritas logo, makes it into a picture that gets shared, he said.
“The most important thing with this is that it doesn’t create a random picture,” Lederer said. “It’s a photo of somebody having fun with us and sharing it with their friends. Even if we’re not specifically tagged, it has our logo all over it.”
Restaurants that are not ready to run photo-sharing promotions could still encourage more picture-taking through “light-touch, high-impact actions,” Reed said.
“The first step is ‘listening,’ or just seeing how customers interpret your brand experience through Instagram,” he said. “Does it lean heavily toward food, or is it people’s photos of their friends at a table in the restaurant? That can tell you positive things about the experience, given what people want to capture and share.”
Margaritas director of marketing Mike Caldwell said the goal for encouraging photos with the menu with the moustache mask is to get guests to record the fun atmosphere in the restaurants. The chain certainly is proud of new dishes, like Habanero Lime Salmon, he said, but the hoped-for pictures of people with menu moustaches likely would stand out among the thousands of food shots on Instagram.
“We’re happy when food shots go up, but these mustache shots for sure are what we want,” Lederer said in agreement. “Fun is what separates us from our competitors. The experience you get at Margaritas and the fun you have when taking a silly picture with a mask on your face is something you’d come back for and partake in.”
At a minimum, a restaurant should acknowledge customers' Instagram photos by “liking” them from the brand’s Instagram profile and commenting, as social-savvy brands now do with Facebook and Twitter, Reed said.
Restaurants can take the next step to ensure the most accurate portrayal of a restaurant experience by encouraging patrons to tag the restaurant locations in their Instagram photos, he added. Some users may apply irrelevant or inaccurate hash tags to their photos — perhaps adding a “#McDonald’s” hash tag to a photo of a different restaurant or an unflattering, extraneous picture of something else — so place tags become more crucial for restaurant brands, Reed said.
Once those behaviors are encouraged, restaurants can find the best shots and promote them on company social media pages.
“A lot of brand managers would have an adverse reaction to that because they like to control how their food is represented,” Reed said. “But you can’t control it anyway, because photo sharing is just happening. You might as well encourage people to portray you in the best light possible by putting incentives in place, or sharing and commenting on photos. Users will then think, ‘OK, let’s put a good filter on this picture now, and make sure the light is right.’”