Social Media

Yeamrot Taddese

Jill Clark’s job is to gracefully butt into people’s conversation every day.

To accomplish her “relationship marketing” mission, the hospitality social media expert engages members of the Twitter community into small talk.

Clark begins her work by looking for keywords related to the venue she is representing.  When she is on Fish Bar’s Twitter account, she searches for words like “oysters in Toronto,” “dinner in Toronto” or “Ossington Avenue,” where the restaurant is located.

“I look for real time conversations about any of the keywords I’m looking for,” she said.

If she finds that a person likes wine, she suggests they try the special for $5.99 at Fish Bar.

But before she talks about dinner at Fish Bar, Clark talks to people about whatever they seem to be interested in at that time. They could have simply tweeted that they are walking their dog at High Park.

“I say, ‘Oh, I live right around High Park! What kind of dog do you have?’ ”

“People on Twitter don’t care about you until you care about them first,” Clark exclaimed.  “They don’t want to be talked at; they want to be talked to.”

Building a personal relationship with customers cannot be underestimated both in and outside of the restaurant, Clark added.

“A manager [in a restaurant] will come up to you and ask you how everything is—that me, but online,” Clark said, her tone reflecting her passion for what she does.

Pangaea restaurant owner Martin Kouprie agrees that Twitter is best used as a two-way street.

“Twitter as an ad space isn’t working,” Kouprie said, adding that he prefers to connect with people with similar interests first.  Just as he talks about specials and events going on in his restaurant, he also tweets about fishing and scuba diving.

Both Kouprie and Clark say Twitter is a much better way to connect with customers than Facebook.

“I’m not a huge fan of Facebook for restaurant marketing,” Clark stated. “You can’t talk directly to people unless they’re posting on your page. There’s a barrier whereas Twitter has zero barrier, you can just jump right in and talk to people.”

Clark added that even after people “like” you on Facebook, you have to find ways to keep them coming back. Besides, your updates could go unnoticed with all the other distractions happening on Facebook, she said.

Kouprie echoed the same sentiments as Clark when he called Facebook “cumbersome.” He half-jokingly compared Facebook to PC and Twitter to Apple.

Kouprie, who has over 1,800 followers of Twitter, wearily noted that the constant changes on Facebook can be hard to get used to.

“I like the continuity of Twitter,” he said. Most importantly, Kouprie said the world of 140 words is more likely to link restaurants to the media.

“It’s a gateway to the larger media.  No one from the Globe and Mail or Toronto Star will notice you on Facebook.”

At Il Fornello, owner Stacey Patterson admits she knows little about how to use Facebook and Twitter effectively— which is why she recently put Anna Thinkng, a young employee at her restaurant, up to the online task.

“Everyone is doing it, you just have to,” Patterson said in a hurry.

A busy restaurateur with barely enough time to chat on the phone, it’s hard to imagine Patterson thinking up the right 140 words to describe what is happening in her restaurant.

While she’s occupied with running her business, Thinkng takes pictures of the pastry or fresh produce that just arrived in the kitchen. Later, she uploads them on Facebook to show clients just what they can expect.

Thinkng says she uses Facebook for its large platform, whereas Twitter lets her talk to people in real time.

“Facebook is basically an extension of our website,” she said. She added that both outlets can be used to post jobs.

But hiring a social media expert is something not all restaurateurs can agree on. While time is an issue for many, it doesn’t hold true for those like Kouprie.

“If you have time to sit on the toilet, you have time to tweet,” he said matter-of-factly.

Others like Qunice Bistro owners Michael Van Den Winkel and his wife Jennifer Gittins aren’t sure social media experts are worth the investment.

“They’re expensive,” Gittins said.

“I know some restaurants that have [social media experts] and I can tell they have one because they actually start posting, ‘Hey, how’s everyone’s weekend?’ which I think is bullshit,” she exclaimed.

“I know they don’t care how my weekend was…what am I going to reply with? ‘Great?’  I think it’s stupid and it starts to cheapen your restaurant.”

Gittins does all the social media work for her restaurant, which has about 200 followers on Twitter. She uses Facebook for information that needs a larger platform, like new a new menu and pictures. While time restricts her venture into other outlets like YouTube, Gittins finds that social media advertising is a winner compared to print.

“Ads do nothing. They cost you a lot of money and do nothing,” Gittens said blatantly.

She added that a small ad in Toronto Life costs her about $1,000.

“It brings me about… I’ll go really high – 25 people,” she said.

For Gittins, seeing response to what you’re putting out is also easier on social media, something Clark can agree with.

“Marketing through social media is much more targeted,” Clark stated.  “It’s much better than traditional advertising, where you can’t really measure who sees your ad or who is taking your offer. It’s sort of a blind attempt to get your brand out there, you never know how much response it’s getting.”

Patterson sees things a little differently.

“[Social media] isn’t necessarily better, it’s just mostly free,” she said.

“We find that combining the two is most effective,” Thinkng agreed. “You want to reach people online and offline.”

One thing is for sure—when restaurant owners take their brands online, customers will take their complaints to the same venue.

“People complain and now they do it online,” Clark said.  She added that the key is to apologize quickly and sincerely.

“99 per cent of the time, it works,” she said. “All they want is for the business to know they’re pissed.”

Kouprie agrees that he will be “more than happy to go overboard” to address a customer’s concern but he is also wary of “scammers out there who complain to get a gift certificate.”

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