As Instagram use continues to grow among smartphone users, the Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is trying to grow its customer engagement along with it.

The 18-unit casual-dining chain is seeing success with the photo-sharing platform even though it has only been using it for a short time. In MomentFeed’s recent study of 65 restaurant brands on Instagram, Margaritaville took the top spot for the average number of photos consumers tagged to the brand’s locations, with 249.7 photos per restaurant.

Kyle Collins, director of marketing for the Orlando, Fla.-based Margaritaville Hospitality Group, credits the brand’s high engagement numbers on Instagram with the attention it gives to customers’ posts.

Collins recently talked with Nation’s Restaurant News about the brand’s approach to using the social media platform.

How long has Margaritaville been actively using the platform?

We’ve been doing it about six months. I think the consumers are surprised when they post something that they are hearing back from us so quickly.

What’s your Instagram strategy?

Our strategy is responsiveness rather than pushing things out. Some brands use Instagram to promote offers, which is innovative and another marketing distribution channel. We haven’t done that yet.

How does it fit into Margaritaville’s overall social media strategy?

It’s important to use. It’s visual communication, and we’re trying to talk to the consumer in the outlets they are using. We’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter. We have a Pinterest page. But our consumers are drawn to sharing their experience. Our primary goal is to be as responsive as possible through the channel.

What’s an example of a technique you use to engage consumers on the platform?

When someone posts a food photo or even a generic room photo of one of our locations, we thank them. We say, “Thank you so much for coming by.” Usually it will be a Margaritaville signature response like “Fins Up” or “Let the Fin Begin.”

Welcoming them into the Margaritaville family is important for us. It helps complete the entire experience for them.

What’s a benefit of using Instagram for your business?

What it boils down to for us is great customer insights — because we can see through the photographs that customers are posting what our food looks like, our entertainment and the beverage selections. There are patterns there. There are specific appetizer and entrée items that are repeated.

It isn’t necessarily a big a-ha moment for us, but it is confirmation about what the consumer is doing within the four walls.

Have there been surprises?

What is interesting for us is how the customer describes the experience. The use of hashtags is a big clue. When they photograph our Volcano Nachos, for example, they use hashtags like #HowAmIGoingToEatAllThis or #YumYumYum. Those kind of adjectives and descriptors you don’t see as readily on other platforms. You can see comments on Facebook, but the simplification of how consumers use hashtags, to me, is very insightful.

Is there much negativity on Instagram?

The majority of posts are very positive. People want to share. That’s one advantage Margaritaville has: We have a fun, party atmosphere. People are on vacation. They are with the family. Why not take a photo of that and share instantly with everyone? We haven’t experienced any negative elements on the channel.

What do you see as the future for Instagram?

Instagram has become accepted by a large audience very quickly. It will continue to evolve and be more far reaching than some of the other things out there.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter or Instagram: @RonRuggless