While Pinterest became a hot piece of real estate in 2012 social media, experts looking further into 2013 see less of a new breakout name than the more effective use of existing platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Some emerging areas of social media include geo-location platforms, photo-sharing applications like Instagram and others, and increased use of video, such as YouTube and Vimeo postings, social media consultants said.
“While there are many new emerging platforms that look sexy and hopeful,” said Amanda Hite, co-founder and chief change officer at BTC Revolutions, a Lexington, Ky.-based social-media consultancy, “we strongly believe that restaurant brands need to get good at [using] the platforms their brands, their customers and their employees are on now.”
Sara A. Polito, founder of the Dallas-based Causing the Stir social media agency, agreed, pointing to Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter as the social media platforms restaurants should watch in 2013. "Although these free platforms aren’t new to the social media world, they are, in my opinion, game changers for businesses, especially restaurants," she said.
“I think it’s one of the best social platforms to drive traffic to your website and other social channels," said Polito about Twitter. "It’s much more timely and the best for current events and conversations.”
Other social media experts agree on Twitter's potential as a tool for restaurants. “[Twitter is] the candy aisle of the social web," replied one of Hite's team members at BTC Revolutions to a query she sent out. "Potential guests are broadcasting their thoughts and crowd-sourcing their dining decisions more than ever before.”
Twitter could also serve as a restaurant brand’s frequently-asked-questions system, said Paul Barron, founder and chief executive of the Miami-based DigitalCoCo agency, which produces the Restaurant Social Media Index.
“I see Twitter getting better at verticals in 2013 and potentially becoming more real-time for restaurants, like chatter boards, feedback systems and maybe even reservations,” Barron said.
Restaurant brands are still figuring out how to leverage Twitter to its fullest, noted Hite. “They just don't get its potential,” she said in an email. “They'll look at the ratio of followers they have on Twitter vs. fans they have on Facebook and see Facebook as the stronger tool to reach their audience when, in most cases, the reality is there are more people ‘Talking About’ or mentioning their brand on Twitter that they can directly reach in real time than they can on Facebook.”
Hite said an example is that on Facebook a brand can only “tag” or reply back to someone who has come to the page and left a comment. However, the brand can search Twitter for comments and engage any Twitter poster that has mentioned the brand.
“Twitter allows you to have a two-way conversation with anyone, not just those that reach out to you,” Hite added. “Also, with the proper listening tools, you can get real-time market feedback, spot service problems and find new audiences.”
Another area that restaurants will keep an eye on is mobile search, especially with the growing use of smartphones with geo-location capabilities. “Consumers are turning to their phones and their friends to get advice on where to eat,” said Hite. “Pay big attention to platforms like Yelp this year.”
Yelp and Foursquare have beefed up their photo-sharing options as well, especially after Facebook purchased Instagram.
People are visually focused, said Polito, and platforms like Instagram allow them to share photos of fresh food, current events or of people enjoying a restaurant. “It’s one thing to say you have a burger and fries lunch special, but it’s a totally different user experience to actually see the juicy burger and fresh fries,” she said.
“The lack of integration with Twitter is a deal killer and further places you on an island,” Barron said. “I am liking Vintique, Vyclone and Starmatic. Granted, I don’t have the Instagram network to share with, but if my network lies on Twitter or Facebook already, maybe I don't need them.”
Barron also sees restaurant brands using more video and location-based platforms in 2013. “YouTube will be the new Food Network for concepts that understand how to become content creators,” he said.
In addition, YouTube has become a place where restaurant brands can place long-form advertisements and work toward viral exposure on other platforms. For example, Outback Steakhouse posted an amusing “12 Days of Leftovers” video on YouTube before Christmas.
Location-based digital interactions will also be getting more attention, Barron said. DigitalCoCo, for example, is looking not just at location check-ins but “intent to visit mentions, related visits and our new term, ‘brand tracing,’ which links brand terms and location-based actions to consumers.” Those capabilities will likely lead to the digital and social return on investment that brands have been seeking, he said.
Barron is less bullish on Facebook, which continues to undergo changes in terms of service and privacy. “I think operators will start to push their social audience to platforms like Twitter and potentially their own so that they can reach their fans 100 percent of the time,” Barron said.
Another challenging area in the year ahead will be social couponing and deal-of-the-day sites, Barron concluded. “Mass social offers and promotions are causing more and more consumers to abandon restaurant brands,” he said. “In a recent study in the Restaurant Social Media Index 2012 Consumer Report, brands that had more than six promotional posts per week caused an opt-out rate of 8 percent from social consumers. If you had that kind of opt-out in email you would be panicking.”
Contact Ron Ruggless at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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