More than ever, social media has become a de rigueur marketing strategy for restaurants across North America during these unpredictable times (Pandemic! Hurricanes! Heat waves! Labor shortages!). But as new platforms emerge (TikTok, anyone?) at breakneck speeds, are the big three outlets -- Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram -- still relevant? And, what’s new next? We talked to three experts about their views on restaurants and social media in 2021.
Image: The top social media platforms North American restaurants utilize, according to Brizo Data.
Facebook Is King
Facebook remains the largest social networking platform in the world with 2.89 billion monthly active users, according to Statista.com. Brizo data reveals that of the 892,811 restaurants in North America, nearly 650,000 have a presence on Facebook.
Maria Benvenuti, CEO of Benvenuti Public Relations in Manhattan, says, “Facebook has become a business’s calling card, its business card. And it acts as a home base for all your information. Plus, you can advertise there without disrupting your aesthetic, unlike Instagram.”
Greer Goldstein, Social Media Manager at GailPR, which services clients in the New York City metropolitan area feels similarly. “I think it’s super important for restaurants to have a Facebook presence. While the algorithm has changed over the last few years, limiting who sees your posts, Facebook can be frustrating, but a lot of customers go to Facebook before they even go to your website,” Goldstein says. And it offers ease of use. “It’s a little more interactive than a site, although you should still have a proper website for your business, and Facebook can be easier to update to showcase specials, adjusted hours, and so on. It is also an important SEO tool for Google searches,” she states.
Additionally, it is an important tool for discovery. Ashley Richards, Founder and CEO of E Squared Marketing in Arizona, notes, “Say I’m flying to Chicago. I’m going to post on Facebook asking for restaurant recommendations. Friends and family will chime in with suggestions and tag the restaurants. As a result, I’ll be clicking through to a restaurant’s Facebook profile page, looking at what they’re offering, photos, and reviews. So it’s vital to have a presence there.”
Image: Ashley Richards and the E Squared team
Instagram Remains Ideal
Per Statista.com, Instagram has roughly one billion monthly active users. Brizo data clocks more than 335,000 food-service establishments on Instagram. It makes sense that Instagram is gaining on Facebook among restaurants because, as Hannah Fair, Associate Publicist at Benvenuti Public Relations, puts it, “You eat with your eyes first.” For Goldstein, “Instagram is my favorite platform for restaurants because it is visually oriented and that it lends itself so nicely to an establishment’s food and space and even sharing behind-the-scenes imagery. And it doesn’t have to be professional photography! Instagram is about being authentic.”
Goldstein recommends using Instagram Stories to post about urgent news, such as closures. “By using Stories, a restaurant can maintain the aesthetic of their feed — plus they’re fleeting, only lasting 24 hours,” she says. Richards states, “Engaging in Instagram Stories and Reels are huge components for restaurant marketing.” Benvenuti concurs. “It’s a big driver for reservations, so we encourage our clients to have fresh content, beautiful imagery on hand so we can strategically share it out for them,” she says. “Reels are also a very influential tool to help restaurants identify new audiences and aid with discovery,” she notes.
The best-run Instagram accounts focus heavily on engagement in addition to content. “It has to be a two-way street,” says Goldstein. “If a diner comes into your restaurant and feels strongly enough that they posted a Story or an image, you need to comment and thank them for coming in and reshare it when possible. The customer will feel really good about it, like, this restaurant noticed me!” She has even seen instances in which she will re-post a guest’s Instagram only for that same guest to repost the restaurant’s repost. “It’s like, ‘Oh, here’s my 15 minutes of fame!’” Benvenuti and her team don’t just spend time on diner engagement. “When we see a client post something, we repost it and it not only helps us gain insights around what is happening in the restaurant in real-time; it lets us interact with them, and that helps drive client relations,” she says.
Image: courtesy of Greer Goldstein of GailPR.
Twitter Comes in for a Landing
Statista.com reports 206 million monetizable daily active users worldwide as of the second quarter of 2021, down from an all-time high of 336 million active users in early 2018. More than 260,000 restaurants have a presence on Twitter, according to Brizo data, although it’s unclear how active the majority are.
“I work with 40 plus clients and none of them are relevant on Twitter. I think that if you’re famous or you’re a politician, it’s a great platform. Otherwise, restaurants should stay away,” says Richards. Goldstein points out, “Twitter has become more of a place for people to get news and catch up on something that might be trending.” Goldstein doesn’t have a lot of clients with a Twitter presence, but, she says, “The ones that do are there because they like it. Certainly, you could use it to inform diners about specials, but I don’t think that’s the way people are using Twitter. You have to go where your audience is, and I think Twitter users are on the platform for reasons other than restaurants.”
Having said that, however, Twitter has been a place for big restaurant brands, such as Taco Bell and Wendy’s, to shine. The strategy goes beyond sharing menu updates. Fair agrees. “If your restaurant has a funny personality, and Twitter is all about personality and quips, and when you’re representing food, you can do that,” she says. However, Goldstein cautions, “It needs to be done well — on-brand and reflective of your brand voice. It is a place for nationwide chains to be humorous or even eco-conscious. For these companies, it’s possible to get lots of attention on Twitter, but for a small local restaurant, it’s probably a different story.”
TikTok, You Don’t Stop!
Hootsuite notes that TikTok has 689 million global active users as of January 2021 and the platform is minting new influencers every day. But are restaurants embracing it — and should they be? It depends on whom you ask, really. Richards says, “TikTok is new and a lot of restaurants have not yet captured and utilized that yet. I would recommend that even if they’re not ready to jump in fully, they should at least sign up and save the handle for the restaurant.” Goldstein doesn’t think it is for every operator. “It’s about giving people what they want to see. They don’t want to be sold to or promoted to. It has to be clever, funny, and entertaining, and it’s hard to do that well. So I don’t tell everyone they need to be on TikTok. It’s a case-by-case basis,” she states.
Benvenuti recommends TikTok influencer partnerships as an easy way in to gaining TikTok fame on the platform. She says, “We had a client go viral recently with a TikTok that was viewed one million times in a day and 26 million times in two days. It is a Wagyu steakhouse, and once the TikTok hit, they were getting calls from concierges at luxe brands Rolls-Royce and Cartier making reservations, and, as a result, they were booked solid for the next six weeks!” Another Benvenuti influencer collaboration on TikTok yielded north of 250,000 engagements and a significant Instagram follower growth for Ichiran, a ramen house.
Image: Results from influencer partnerships for Benvenuti clients.
Fair also favors using influencers on TikTok. “It’s effective because you’re getting someone else’s perspective and you’re getting to feel like you’re in the restaurant so you get a clear idea of what your experience will be like,” she says. And it drives business. “It’s almost like a mini-review and a mini-experience that you can have before you walk in the door. When you see an influencer posting about a positive experience and it looks beautiful and the food looks delicious, you’re going to make a reservation,” she adds.
About Brizo Data, Inc.: Brizo Data helps the foodservice industry by providing the strategic data you need to win in your market. We empower restaurant vendors and restauranteurs with better data for Business Intelligence, Market Research, and Competitive Analysis. Brizo monitors the online footprint of every food serving establishment in the US and Canada – from social media presence, online reviews, menu items, market composition, and even technological choices.