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The power of social media for food businesses

  1. A cup of fruit tea being photographed with a smartphone
    Katie Mather

    Katie Mather UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    Who wants to hear what you’ve had for breakfast? As it turns out: everyone. Social media has exploded for the restaurant and drinks industry, and as the years of tech-savviness have progressed, use of platforms like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube has only gotten more sophisticated.

    Food on social media is popular in a way that’s almost unfathomable. It’s easy escapism for the modern foodie. If you’re bored, hungry or simply fancy a bit of dining inspiration, heading to Instagram is the quickest way to enact some swift custard-pie-to-the-face food satisfaction. 

    But why are food-based social media accounts so popular? And how can food and drink businesses use them successfully without feeling disconnected from their real-life businesses?

    The psychology of foodstagramming

    At the start of the Instagram boom in 2016, articles like 'The Psychology of Foodstagramming' were being collated to explain the phenomenon of people finding enjoyment in looking at pictures of other people’s food.

    To begin with, photographing plates of food or cocktails before we ate or drank them was seen as a type of boasting – a way for diners to show off what they were about to eat, and inform their followers, friends and family where they were and what they were doing.

    Now, photographs help us to document our lives, and for the most part our images inform and influence the people around us. They enable drinks, dishes and surroundings to be shown realistically and in real-time, giving future customers a first-person look at what you’re really serving.

    Creating tasty, tailored content

    As food and drink professionals, it’s already drilled into us that presentation is everything. In social media and online, the presentation of your business isn’t just how you make your products look appealing to your customers. It’s also how you present yourselves as a business and as individuals within the busy and competitive sphere of food and drink.

    If your social media posts haven’t really been working for you, it might be time to step back from posting and have a think about what your business wants to say in general. What do you want your customers to know about you? Once you find out, you can work on a more cohesive tone of voice for your brand.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself about your business to get started on figuring out your tone of voice:

    • How do we act around our customers? Eg. Are we classic fine dining, or edgy and cool? 
    • What do we want people to think about our service? Eg. Personal and bespoke, or fast and convenient?
    • What’s the biggest compliment we could get? Eg. Beautifully presented food, or great value for money?
    • How do we want customers to feel about our business? Eg. Fun and bright, or sleek and sophisticated?

    Once you’ve had a think about your tone of voice, you can use it to inform the design and content of your website, social media accounts and even the way you train your staff and decorate your business. Using your tone of voice throughout each area helps to seamlessly bring your customers through from booking to bill. To do this you need to consider:

    • The way you communicate on social media
    • The direct correspondence you send via email or text
    • Your printed menus
    • How your team answers the phone
    • How your team communicate at the bar, at tables and when greeting guests

    Having a tone of voice that runs through your business like a saucy message through a stick of Blackpool rock helps keep your customers feeling connected to you. There’s a danger if you don’t work it out quite right though. If your messages match up across all platforms, but the real life experience doesn’t live up to expectations, the dissonance can be deafening.

    Using social media to spread your tone

    According to Social Media Today, 23% of all Instagram users post pictures of food as a photoblog, and according to data collected on Scribd, 8% of all photographs of food uploaded to the internet on any platform are used as restaurant reviews.

    Consider this: by December 2010, 80 billion photos had been uploaded to the internet. A decade later… that’s a lot of independent restaurant and bar reviews.

    Instead of feeling intimidated by the vast increase in individual critics seating themselves around your tables, find ways to empower yourselves in their presence. While you can’t tell people what to say, there are ways to channel their enthusiasm to gain positive content you can use. And, for those rare guests who are not glued to their phones, these touches will elevate their experience too.

    • It seems obvious but it’s worth saying: keep your standards sky-high and go the extra mile. If your guests are impressed, surprised or delighted, they are more likely to post in your favour.
    • Plate up prettily. The more photogenic your food is, the more likely it is to be photographed.
    • Use your tone of voice to share your favourite relevant quotes, inspirational lyrics or even deeper brand stories in instagrammable ways such as in prints or neon lights, on bathroom mirrors or on your menus. This underlines your brand’s personality, and offers another way for customers to connect with you.
    • Decorate to match your intended vibe. Well-chosen glassware and upgraded light fixtures go a long way to tell a story about the type of establishment you are. And yes, these often get Instagrammed too.

    If you’re working hard to create the best quality food and/or drink, being told that making your business look perfect on the internet is potentially even more important can leave a bitter taste. However, ignore it at your peril. Evidence shows that your customers really do make drinking and dining decisions based on how good photographs look on their feeds. Win their feeds and you’ll win their appetites too.