Social media reviews and search engine rankings on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon are more important than traditional advertising and promotions, according to a recent survey of franchise restaurant operators by GE Capital, Franchise Finance, or GEFF.

In a survey conducted at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference March 30-April 2, about 104 respondents offered insights on their views of the digital world and its influence.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they consider customer ratings and comments on social media sites a more important influencer of restaurant traffic than traditional advertising, while another 35 percent said such ratings were just as important.

Moreover, 45 percent said they consider search engine rankings and consumer reviews on sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon to be a more important influencer, while another 43 percent see them as equal to traditional marketing.

“Restaurant consumers are connected online, so it’s imperative that franchisees meet them where they are,” said Shannon Tolbert, chief marketing officer of GEFF. “We’re seeing an intense battle for market share among brands in the U.S. Those who reach consumers through social media and digital marketing strategies will likely have an edge.”

About one quarter of respondents, or 24 percent, said their capabilities of managing social media reviews and search engine rankings were excellent, while 45 percent said their ability to manage such online activity was “satisfactory.” Another 29 percent, however, said they could do better, but lacked the resources to devote to it.

Close to one third, or 32 percent, said they spend more than $10,000 annually on online advertising, social media management and search engine optimization, including tools, services and people. About 26 percent of respondents said they spend less than $10,000. Another 30 percent said they didn’t know what they spend, and 5 percent said they spend nothing.

“Restaurant operators are making use of social media because they realize it’s a simple, cost-effective way to connect directly with consumers,” said Kevin Runnels, GEFF’s digital communications leader. “We know they’re deploying more social media resources this year — a trend that will likely continue over the next few years.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout