You may have missed it, but a social media visual revolution happened over the last few months. Rapidly, social media (unlike search engines) is starting to become ruled by photos, videos and other images, as seen with the recent developments of Facebook Timeline, Pinterest and Instagram. Online restaurant marketing too must adapt to the new reality and find or create content to maintain customers’ attention.

Although this shift has been building for some time, it was three events in social media that triggered this new marketing environment. First, Pinterest took the tech-savvy masses by storm almost overnight. Pinterest has a straightforward purpose. It is a social media site where users collect and share images they like or find and pin it to their pinboard,. Second, Instagram came of age. Once limited to iPhone, Instagram finally launched an Android app and welcomed a huge community that had not heard about it or were left out of the fun. Then, accelerating and confirming this process, Facebook bought Instagram (which has no revenue stream) for one billion dollars, a figure that made heads turn. Lastly, the formatting and formula behind Facebook Timeline tilts the scales towards images. Larger images now appear on Facebook walls, and they receive significantly better response and engagement than before (and surpasses other types of content).

Most haven’t reacted to this change. So this is an opportunity to gain a social media marketing advantage. To put it in hard numbers, right after Timeline became available for Pages, one of our clients posted an alluring food photograph on his wall. Customers went wild, and although the photo was in the album beforehand and it has been on the website for a while, the reaction was incredible. The reach of that post was 20 times that of an average post or to a half million people. It goes without saying that every restaurant must have some professional photos, but that is too expensive to provide a continual stream of visual content. Here are the basic, long-term strategies a restaurant should use to get a head start in adjusting to these new marketing challenges:

  1. Photograph Events
    Photographing fun events is always an easy source of visual content. You will need a good photographer, but you do not need to hire a professional. Normally, a member of your staff is experienced enough with the camera to take some photos you can feature on Facebook. You probably will need a photo-editing program to fix it up, but you do not need a sophisticated suite like Adobe Photoshop and can use free software. Also, avoid a never-ending album of group portraits and give customers a feeling for the event (with candid, set-up or creative photos).
  2. Use Photo-Based Social Media Like Pinterest and Instagram
    This is the year of Pinterest and Instagram, and they are at the center of the fixation of photographs. Pinterest is difficult for a restaurant to participate in like the average user (other than posting its own photos) as figuring out the ownership and licensing of photos is a headache. It does not mean you cannot encourage customers to pin your photos or share the photos they upload on Pinterest (if you have a Pinterest account) on your Facebook Page (with appropriate permission of course). Additionally, Instagram allows people to take photos with their mobile phones and upload them immediately onto the internet. Instagram photos normally take advantage of a stock of filters to give the photo a texture and resolves some of the weaknesses of mobile phone cameras. It is one of the favorite toys of the smartphone generation.
  3. Encourage Customers to Share Quality Photos
    Ask them. Yes, you can do a contest but arranging that is difficult and it is much better if the incentive is the recognition. That is more sustainable while running contest after contest is taxing. If you can get enough photos, choose a photo of the month or week. You want to bring together enough visual content so that customers hang around your website and social media and do not forget you as a source of information and food/drink.
  4. Expand Content Beyond Strictly Restaurant-Related
    Restaurants cannot limit the content to pictures from their location or images directly tied up with their brand. Therefore, cafes should welcome all coffee photos, (except images connected with their competitors) and Japanese restaurants should consider all sushi pictures. This does not mean that when you feature low quality images. You have to develop a system where you encourage sharing, but admit that every photo will not make the grade.

Soon everyone will have a smartphone and be snapping pictures of just about everything. Social media has already started to reflect the mobile reality. Make sure your social media marketing is ready for the visual revolution and that your restaurant will be home to the most visually appealing content (but relevant) on the internet.