Shifting Social Media Strategies

July 21, 2016

Restaurateurs are finding that a picture may after all really be worth a thousand words, or at least 140 characters.

For millennials — and increasingly for other age groups as well — social media platforms have become highly visual channels. In fact, just this spring Twitter announced it will begin enabling users to circumvent its 140-character limit so they can post more photos and videos in their tweets.

The rapid growth of platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest, along with the increasing use of video on Facebook, demonstrate that the sharing and viewing of photos and videos has become the new language of online conversation. And, no surprise, that conversation is being led by millennials.

According to comScore’s 2014 U. S. Digital Future in Focus report, millennials spend 48 percent more time watching videos online than the average Internet user.

In addition, Nielsen’s Global Digital Landscape Survey last year found that younger consumers are much more likely to watch videos on their phones than those who are age 35 and older, even when at home.

“Generation Z and millennials, the digital natives, are voracious consumers of media, and mobile phones are at the center of their lives,” says Megan Clarken, executive vice president, Nielsen Global Watch Product Leadership. “For younger consumers, the mobile phone is no longer just for use on the go, but everywhere — even their living rooms. Content providers and advertisers need to be flexible with their approaches in order to reach consumers where they are, on the device they are using and during the activities in which they participate.”

For noncommercial operators, the trend calls for a shift in strategy in terms of using social media as a marketing tool and communications vehicle for reaching young consumers in particular.

The immediate nature of social media and impulsive nature of purchasing snacks and desserts make an especially effective combination. As more and more consumers, especially millennials, snack throughout the day, using social media to market to them has become an increasingly important strategy for operators.

Victoria Boatwright, web developer/social and print media coordinator at Virginia Tech Dining Services, says the school has seen success with instant, limited time offers via Twitter especially, and is ramping up its efforts around those this year.

“For example, we might say, ‘Today only we have this special doughnut offer,’ and then they retweet it and they go get it,” she says. “Or we can say, ‘We have mac and cheese today,’ or, ‘It is chicken parm day,’ and they get really excited.”

Boatwright says that while the message might be essentially the same across platforms, it is presented differently for each.

“On Instagram it is really important to have an eye-catching photo, because that’s what people are looking for,” she says. “On Twitter we use more gifs, and we use more pop culture references instead of news photos.”

The school recently opened a Snapchat account as well, but has not begun using it yet. Boatwright says she’ll probably use it to show behind the scenes videos, and for limited time offers similar to those on Twitter.

At Southern Oregon University, Facebook remains the primary social media platform for SOU Dining Services, but the school is paying increasing attention to faster-growing social media channels, says Katie Bergantino, director of marketing at A’viands. SOU Dining is an A’viands account.

“We are looking to expand our social presence into other platforms like Twitter and Instagram,” she says. “With SOU Dining, the main focus is college students between 18 and 22 [years old]. However, more and more college students are moving away from Facebook and engaging with Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.”

Meanwhile, maintaining a presence on Facebook helps build relationships with parents, she says.

Bergantino says social media is used to promote upcoming promotions, specials and events, as well as “fun facts” and kitchen tips.

Photos have become an increasingly important component of the school’s social media marketing.

“We post a lot with pictures, since social media has become such a visual experience,” says Bergantino. “It is important to have fun with social media, so we make sure to keep the content light and entertaining.”

In an effort to expand its reach, SOU Dining partners with other social media groups at the college to cross-promote each other’s posts.

“It provides us with a great audience, and sometimes results in a new ‘like,'” says Bergantino. “It helps us strengthen our brand and our commitment to the SOU community.”

While noncommercial operators in corporate and healthcare foodservice venues have been much slower to adopt social media than their college and university counterparts, some have found it to be a versatile tool for communicating with different audiences.

San Mateo, Calif.-based restaurant management company, Guckenheimer, for example, created an Instagram hash tag — #guckengram — to showcase its chefs and their creations at its corporate dining accounts around the country.

Guckenheimer also uses its Facebook and Twitter accounts as recruiting tools, promoting its job fairs and career opportunities, while also celebrating its chefs with links to profiles posted on its recently revamped website, mixed in as well with an abundance of appetizing food photographs.

“I think [certain social media] platforms work for that because they show food so well,” says Randy Lopez, founder and chief instigator at marketing and public relations firm JaKE and a member of Synergy Consultants. “People are using it as a visual way of communicating rather than having a copy or content focus — it’s about the beauty of the product.”