Panning for gold involves running lots of water through your pan, shaking the pan vigorously and letting the heavier particles settle. Social media marketing works in a similar way. You run a promotion that targets where your ideal customers can be found. You attract these prospects for your restaurant to your site and vigorously engage them to get them to settle. Once you have a captive audience, you wash away the sediment and focus on the golden nuggets that can provide your restaurant with real value.

Just like panning for gold, you can learn much about social marketing by observing how others do it. You can adapt other people’s methods and ideas, but you need your own claim or creative concept if you want to achieve real success.

Prospecting on Facebook

Facebook is the most popular of the social media and the gold standard of your marketing strategy. Ideas for promotions focus on providing interesting content to potential customers instead of trying to “sell” people on your restaurant, like traditional advertising. Best Facebook practices include:

  • Facebook plans to cut news feeds that are too promotional, so offer news that has real educational value for your targeted customer profile.
  • Consider mixing paid Facebook advertising with news releases and customer contests.
  • Post photos in regular link format in your text instead of burying links in your photo captions.
  • Share “Cup of Warmth” posts by donating warm beverages to local shelters and homeless people.
  • Use built-in Facebook polls to boost audience engagement.
  • Share relevant statistics about culinary trends, healthy dining, sustainable sourcing and restaurant technology.
  • Post lots of pictures (and videos) of behind-the-scenes looks at your restaurant as well as pictures of food and customers enjoying their restaurant experiences.
  • You can also share photos that relate to your restaurant, such as production methods at local dairies, harvesting time at nearby farms or happy people enjoying travel and entertainment.
  • Provide educational posts — between 100 and 250 words — that include cooking tips, customer testimonials and reviews, menu highlights and upcoming events.
  • Use Facebook as an extra customer service page for addressing complaints, concerns and customer inquiries.
  • Generate interesting content by using crowdsourcing techniques or getting customers to recommend topics, post photos and videos and tell stories about their experiences at the restaurant.

Digital Mining Tools

One of the most important parts of social marketing is keeping track of your online reputation, and responding to negative and positive posts about your restaurant. There are several commercial apps that monitor the social media to find mentions of your restaurant, your chef, your cuisine or the restaurant’s competitors. Every mention of your restaurant — good or bad — is a marketing opportunity. You can try to redress grievances, thank people for positive publicity, answer questions and correct attitudes based on mistaken assumptions. Two popular monitoring apps are Mention and HootSuite Pro.

Mention App for Assaying Digital Nuggets

The Mention App monitors digital chatter across the social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and others. Easy to use, the app’s interface can be set to monitor the Web for keywords like your name, the restaurant’s name, your chef’s name and your type of cuisine. You can get daily summary alerts and set the monitoring criteria for your restaurant’s geolocation coordinates. The app works with iOS or Android systems.

HootSuite Pro to Prevent Claim Jumping

You can use the Hootsuite Pro app to keep you posted about social media mentions of keywords, hashtags, phrases and names. You can narrow your focus with geolocation, which is especially effective for Tweets. You can monitor your competitors to find out if they’ve struck marketing gold and quickly stake your own claim to share the strike.

Mining Tweets from Twitter

Twitter exemplifies modern marketing with its succinct take on posting brief shout-outs to customers and prospects. The Twitter platform focuses on real-time communications, so you might need to authorize your staff to keep up with trending topics. Your hashtag campaigns should be easy to remember, short and to the point like #RouxSecrets. You could explore various aspects of making roux with this hashtag, such as adding hot liquid to cool roux or cool liquid to hot roux to prevent lumps. You might also explore the shades of roux in different Tweets.

Promoted Trends and Promoted Tweets can yield high return rates between 3 percent and 10 percent. The best strategy for Twitter is to identify influencers in your community by using a search tool or app to find your customers, geolocated Tweets, local celebrities or culinary stars who have large followings. You can follow these influential people to find out how they engage their audiences and use the techniques to reach your targeted audience. Best practices for Twitter marketing include:

  • Tweet regularly.
  • Track mentions of your restaurant, cuisine and key foods.
  • Ask your followers to Retweet or share Tweets.
  • Respond when it’s appropriate.
  • Tweet on subjects of interest to the restaurant.
  • Retweet microblogs about culinary topics and trends.
  • Engage your existing customers with regular campaigns.

Using Instagram to Sift for Treasure

Instagram is the social site where you let pictures and videos do your talking. The site isn’t viable for direct advertising campaigns, but you can post photos of your food, restaurant, celebrations, culinary practices and behind-the-scenes stories. You can also get your customers involved by encouraging them to post photos of food, parties and events at your restaurant.

Hitting Paydirt

Of course, the metaphor of panning for gold doesn’t hold up 100 percent. The focus shifts to your targeted customers who are looking for their own pots of gold, grubstakes and supplies. You’ll soon discover what the most successful entrepreneurs learned during the feverish days of gold strikes in California, the Yukon and even Australia: The smartest people during the gold rushes were those who supplied prospectors with food, transportation, supplies, beverages and entertainment.

Social Media Marketing Pans Out

The best social media marketing ideas have strong graphic or visual elements, promote a clear restaurant identity, concept or social cause, include strong calls-to-action or hooks for clicking on links and engage customers with thoughtful content designed to stimulate conversations and sharing.

Ideas for effective promotions on any platform include:

  • Engaging customers with simple questions that people can answer
  • Linking to guest posts, social content, videos and photos
  • Encouraging customers to share socially with visible links to various media like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others
  • Using strong graphic and visual elements to attract attention

Digital streams and social media marketing offer restaurateurs some of the best opportunities for building their brands, staking their claims and getting their shares of business from digital marketing strategies — a real gold rush.