Outlook 2013: Social media offer ways to connect with customers
The inspiration for your next dinner out might be on Instagram.
If you’re not familiar with the social media application used to display and view pictures on smartphones and tablets, then you’re missing out on one of the 21st century tools that Capital Region restaurants, pizza places, fast-food joints and online delivery sources use to communicate with their customers.
In the case of D’Andrea’s Pizza in Saratoga Springs, if you weren’t following their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts last month, you missed out on a special clam chowder pizza they promoted in advance of the city’s Chowderfest celebration.
“[Social media] gives me an avenue to reach people you didn’t have 10 years ago,” said Rory Wilson, owner of D’Andreas’s, who controls their social media accounts. The pizza place can be found on Facebook at D’andrea’s PizzaRory, Twitter at @pizzarory1 and Instagram at pizzagod5.
He uses these accounts to ensure that the business has a presence in the community and so that customers feel like they have a personal relationship with the business. On all of the accounts, Wilson, who is the prominent face of the company, puts a large amount of his own personality on display, via jokes, pop culture commentary or photos of him with staff.
“The amazing thing to me is how many people come in and say, ‘Hi Rory,’ ” he said. “And they only know me from Facebook or Twitter.”
But the accounts are also a great way to promote the pizzeria’s products, including specialty pizzas, like clam chowder, or curly fry offerings. Wilson puts pictures of these items on all of the different accounts, and that often attracts some interest.
His isn’t the only downtown eatery showing off its products with social media. Hattie’s Restaurant, Boca Bistro, The Wine Bar, Chianti Il Ristorante and Forno Bistro can all be found on Facebook or Twitter promoting their food, specials and events.
Bill Gathen, director of marketing for DZ Restaurants, which operates Forno, Chianti, Boca Bistro and Pasta Pane in Clifton Park, is responsible for spreading the word to hungry customers. He joined the company about three years and is constantly using his smartphone to let people know what is going on through Facebook and Twitter.
Each restaurant can be found on Facebook, where Gathen frequently posts pictures of specials and classic recipes that he hopes followers of the account will share.
A consolidated Twitter account, @DZRestaurants, is responsible for all of the tweeting. They merged the Twitter accounts into one, he said, to promote the entire group of restaurants and will single out specific locations using a hashtag, which is a way of categorizing tweets on a certain topic. On special occasions, he likes to tweet live from events, like cooking demonstrations, which he feels gives an authentic feel that customers appreciate.
In the lead-up to Christmas, Gathen ran the “12 Days of Delishmas" promotion on the Facebook and Twitter accounts. The business offered a different deal each day, but they were only redeemable if you showed a copy of the promotion in print or on your mobile device. “We try to give some exclusivity and specialness,” he said of these types of promotions.
Gathen said the tools were also less intrusive than other platforms because customers can choose how engaged they want to be. For some, that could mean taking part in the DZ Restaurants caption contests or sending in pictures taken with the pig outside of Boca Bistro, and for others, it might mean just glancing at a post in the news feed on Facebook.
“It’s not the silver bullet,” Gathen said of social media. “People need to think of it as an extension of your business.” This year and beyond, he hopes to expand the company’s use of YouTube, where they have a few videos, and Instagram.
Wilson said one of the reasons he is so keen on social media is because of the direct and instant connection it provides, which can be much more meaningful than advertising in some cases. That’s especially the case of Twitter, which he found is widely popular with a lot of his younger clientele, who make up his lunch and early dinner crowd.
The sites also serve as customer relations tools, he noted, explaining that Facebook has been helpful during the expansion of D’Andrea’s into Wilton. There have been some initial growing pains, like an oven breaking down on opening day, but Wilson has maintained a dialogue with customers and talked to them throughout it all. “It gives them the heads-up about what is happening,” he said. “It’s so up to date.”
Sites like Twitter can also open new doors to what is possible, like ordering food online.
Mealeo, a website where you can order food locally to pick up or have delivered, maintains a Twitter account, @GoMealeo, where it advertises giveaways, chats with users and lets people know about restaurants available through their service. That includes retweeting a tweet from the D’Andrea’s account, which reminded its followers that pizza could be ordered online through Mealeo.
One of the nice aspects about these different forms is how they can be more informal than traditional outreach methods. In November, the Mealeo account embodied that fact when it tweeted, “100% seriously. We’re thinking of a number between 1 and 100 right now. Guess the number and you’ll win a free pizza, delivered.”