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Social Media: The double-edged sword

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Social media offers restaurateurs a cost-effective medium for instant marketing and promotion through campaigns that engage customers directly and meaningfully. The downside is that a single tweet can damage the brand value in an instant
According to Ernst and Young’s report Social Media Marketing – India Trends Study 2013,  almost 89.6 percent of all tech savvy organisations surveyed, placed Facebook as the most important social media platform, followed by Twitter, YouTube and blogging. There is also a growing interest in emerging platforms like Pinterest, Google Plus, and Foursquare. Various Ad agencies have started developing YouTube specific ads, and companies are using blogging to share information about trends, etc. According to the report, almost 95.7 percent of companies are ken on building communities, thereby, shifting away from a one-way track to a platform where they can interact and get feedback from their target audience.
For restaurants and QSR owners, social media offers a huge opportunity for marketing their business, provided they use the medium innovatively to their advantage. “Social media helps us stay connected with our patrons real time; gives them a voice that can be directly addressed to the brand and helps in driving conversation. Brands can understand customer sentiments and connect with them,” says Subroto Mukherjee, CEO of Burgs.
What’s trending
Companies now have planned social media campaigns with a separate social media team to ideate and manage the campaigns. They also put up generic information such as brand values, festive greetings, etc, that are away from direct promotions, as a way of bonding with customers. Since many popular bloggers are also great influencers of public opinion, blogs have become a good channel for customer interaction. The report shows that around 47.9 per cent of the social media-savvy organizations regularly engaged with bloggers and other online influencers, while 37.5 per cent engaged less frequently. A popular method of attracting bloggers is by organising a ‘bloggers meet’ which can range from a simple high-tea event to a more elaborate contest.
Other trend is the increase in deals and exclusive promotions only for online fans (64.6 per cent); and frequency of posting an update on their pages (25 per cent of organisations surveyed said that they post one update daily on their Facebook pages).
Turning tweets into profit
Food service players use social media to leverage their brand, display new schemes, and create a buzz beyond the restaurant. Some very interesting campaigns were launched in 2013, for instance, KFC’s ‘Komic Krushers’, a digital only campaign aimed at tech savvy teenagers, allowed its followers on Facebook to input their pictures, names, and a couple of favourite catchphrases into a story line and create a ‘User Generated Graphic Novel’. This personalised graphic novel could be shared with friends on Facebook. Everyday, the best male and female entries would get a print version of their novels as memorabilia, and weekly winners an opportunity to win an Xbox 360. KFC had previously launched campaigns like ‘Currycature’, ‘KFC Wow’ and ‘Design Your Own Bucket’.
QSR chain Burgs went social in 2012, and already has over 16,000 followers on Facebook and around 875 on Twitter. “We are constantly innovating and our campaigns are not just based on seasons and events but also based on consumer behaviour.  Social media gives us the liberty to be constantly in touch with our target group, get their feedback and plan activities that are for the people, by the people and of the people. Social media can be termed as the 4th pillar of democracy!” says Mukherjee.
Ahmed Naqvi, MD and co-Founder of Gozoop that manages social media for Burgs,  says, “Our core strategy for Burgs is to humanise the brand using social media as a platform for customer service, feedback, fan love, influencer and loyalist alignment, along with innovative campaigns. We aim to sync the offline and online activities through strategic inputs, leading to valuable digital communication for Burgs. This will play a meaningful role in building a lasting relationship between the brand and its customers.”
Burgs invited food bloggers and tweeples to one of its outlets where they were asked to create their own burger. During the event, over 24 burgers were created! The winning burger was available in Burgs outlets for a week, and was promoted through Hashtag #ForFreeFoodIWill, which trended in Mumbai, Thane, Ahmedabad and Surat over several weeks.
“The primary objective is to get footfalls at the outlets. Diverting people from our online community in various ways is what we aim for while strategising for Burgs. We like to connect, build conversational topics around burgers,” says Mukherjee, and informs that Burgs is also planning to become active in Pinterest and Foursquare.
Bangalore-based Avant Garde Hospitality, which runs fine dine restaurants like Caperberry (it specialises in European cuisine and molecular gastronomy), and Fava (Mediterranean restaurant), is present on Facebook and Twitter and plans to join Pinterest. “Having an online presence is critical for a restaurant’s success in today’s world. Both good and bad news can travel very fast through social media, so one has to be careful about the communication being sent out and one should also track negative messages to contain any damage as soon as possible,” says Abhijit Saha, Founder, Director and Chef at Avant Garde.
“Our pages are very interactive and we monitor them actively. We plan on uploading some of our popular recipes soon and also run some fun contests. There has definitely been an increase in brand awareness. We also promote specific events and have observed footfalls go up by 10 to 50 percent during promotions,” adds Saha.
As regards other advantages, he says, “Social media marketing is definitely more cost-effective, however, it’s most important aspect is the endorsements you receive on a public platform, which create a lot of word-of-mouth publicity.”
Pune-based Malaka Spice has been active on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr since 2008. The brand has around 9,676 Facebook fans and around 911 Twitter followers (as of October 2013). Managing Director Praful Chandwarkar feels that social media has become a quintessential part of marketing for restaurateurs. “The age group between 16-25 is constantly online, and with smartphones they are always accessing Facebook, Twitter, etc. Once you get an access to them your reach increases.”
The brand is very proactive in converting their online activities into offline events. “We invite Tweeples and food bloggers to taste and review the new offers on our menu. We did a photo contest where customers had to take a photo inside the autorickshaw installed in our restaurants and upload it on Facebook/Twitter. The winners got a free meal, and we joined them at the table. Such activities have helped increase footfalls by 8 to 10 percent,” says Chandwarkar.
While initially they started with an in-house team to handle their social media campaigns, early this year they switched to a digital agency. The restaurateur has invested Rs 3 to 4 lakh for marketing (this includes setting up both offline and online activities, design work for campaigns, menu, etc). “With an in-house team there is always the problem of ideas becoming stale. With a a digital agency, we get access to more talent and more fresh ideas,” says Chandwarkar who also plans to develop a customised phone App for their restaurant.
Interactive Apps
Customised phone apps are also becoming quite popular. A phone application makes it easier for restaurateurs to disseminate information to customers at the click of a button, and makes it easier to share details about new offers, photos and promotions, as once downloaded, they will be with the customer 24×7.
Says Ashim Jolly, Senior VP, Incubation and Business, Snaplion – an IT company developing phone Apps for the Food Service industry, “ In this melting economy, if you decide not to adopt any traditional advertising strategy such as billboards, TV commercials, print ads, etc, there are meager chances that diners will know or talk about your restaurant. In such a fiercely competitive retail space, you need a lot of word-of-mouth from your existing customer base to drive in new ones. Social media marketing comes in handy as it helps establish your brand and deepen the relationship with your guests, and stay on top of their minds as a dining destination.”
SnapLion’s interactive phone App has features like In-App Ordering for delivery or pick-up, One-touch Reservation, Loyalty points, and Fan Wall for direct engagement with diners.  “Traditionally, App development for restaurants and QSRs took several months; it required technical knowledge and a cost of Rs 10 to 20 lakh. SnapLion’s cloud-based technology platform is not just simple to use (as no coding is required; just drag and drop  images and content into the platform), it is also quick (takes less than an hour to build an engaging app), and costs only Rs 5,000/month,” informs Jolly.
Over 50 restaurants have developed their phone Apps through SnapLion. “ROI from the App can vary from one restaurant to another depending on multiple factors. One of our clients, High Spirits – a resto-bar and an nightlife spot in Pune – observed a dramatic increase in its table reservations and repeat visits from its existing customer base. Overall, the response has been overwhelming,” says Jolly.
Posist Technologies develops POS softwares that help restaurateurs monitor what customers are saying about them. “If a customer visits a restaurant and does a check-in on one of the social media channels like Facebook/Foursquare, he/she is doing free publicity for the restaurant, but no one at the outlet’s management is aware of it. Now, if the manager or the server instantly gets to know that this particular customer has done a check-in, they can reward him/her. It also links to the history of the customer, so a restaurant can reach out to the customer via Facebook for future offers,” says Ashish Tulsian, CEO, Posist Technologies.
An investment of Rs 12,000 per annum is required to install the POS solution that runs on a regular PC/laptop/tablet. “With this technology, you not only have access to the customer’s likes and dislikes for food options, you also have their social media accounts captured. One can always push specific offers to these customers based on their taste and spending pattern that are recorded by the POS,” says Tulsian.
As regards the ROI from the software, he says, “The ROI starts quite instantly as customers start engaging; it creates a viral effect on these platforms. For example, one of our customers analysed his data with social media profiles and realised a lot of them loved the sandwiches at his eatery. He picked up a 100 people out of the lot who were not seen at the restaurant for the past two months, created an offer from the POS, and pushed it to all of them via email/SMS and Facebook messages. In the next one week they saw more than 40 percent redemption. The investment to bring in these footfalls was less than Rs 50!” Over 700 restaurants across 52 Indian cities are using Posist technologies and out of over a 100+ are using their social media integration tool.
Indirect connection to social media can also be a way of increasing reach, for example, Gourmetitup enables new experiences for customers by designing exclusive culinary experiences. “We regularly create tie ups with our restaurant and other F&B partners to create giveaways for our social media audience,” say Deepa and Kunal Jain, Founders of the website. They tie-up with restaurants for events like mixology classes, and also create off-menu set meals. “Apart from the billing and feedback, our restaurant partners get a lot of press from the bloggers and journalists that use our platform as customers. The response has been fantastic. Restaurants that were initially skeptical about our model are now asking to be on our platform after seeing the results we’ve been able to achieve,” they add.
Negative feedback
In 2013, an angry blog post (written by a group of teenagers) about inefficient customer service and rude behaviour of the staff at Lempbrew Pub and Kitchen in Gurgaon, went viral. The post highlighted the poor quality of the food served to them and the inconsistencies in the bill that went against the discount offer the restaurant was promoting online. Although the post was removed within a few days of wrting it, it was enough to make social media go into a tizzy. People all over the city sympathised with the group and negative comments spurted up everywhere. The result was there for everyone to see when in Zomato the restaurant rating fell from 3 stars to 1.3.
The incident highlights the vulnerability of restaurants to negative criticisms. Can social media then be a double-edged sword?
“Social media is no different from a knife; you use it to cut vegetables, but if not cautious you may end up cutting your hands. You have to understand that platforms are more open now. While you may receive 100 accolades for good work and everyone will see it, you may also receive brickbats for lapses and everyone will see that too. It’s all about learning to handle it well,” feels Tulsian.
The Ernst and Young report states that while 87.8 percent social media-savvy organisations have social media guidelines, and 78 percent have online monitoring programmes to track what customers are talking about them. Only 39 percent have a crisis manual ready with them. Damage control is a necessary step for any restaurant trying to go big on social media. In the case of Lempbrew Pub and Kitchen, most users of Facebook and Twitter were appalled that the owners did not bother to post a formal apology. According to Tulsian, that is a bad way of handling negative feedback.
He says, “While I am not sure about what happened behind the curtains, it was the apathetic way the owners handled the whole situation that made the backlash spiral out of hand. Every platform has its rules; we need to learn and play.”
According to Saha from Avant Garde, it is important to track negative criticism online as news travel fast. “Sometimes, the criticisms are not even fair but one has to remember that both good and bad news can travel very fast through social media. You have to be careful about the communication being sent out and should also track negative messages to contain any damage as soon as possible.”
Chandwarkar feels that negative feedback has always been something that restaurateurs have to deal with, but the advantage is that they get instant access to the news. “Word of mouth criticism cannot compete with one bad review on Facebook, but at least it gives me access to negative feedback. If you say something bad about a restaurant to a friend he/she will then avoid the place, and the restaurant looses a customer without really getting an opportunity to know why or to improve.“
He adds, “Responding to feedback should be top priority. I personally take time out (sometimes even half a day is spent) in replying to comments. With negative feedback, it becomes especially important because you want the customers to come back to you.”
Mukherjee from Burgs highlights another problem: difficult customers. “Prompt action needs to be taken if customers report some operational problem in social media. But it becomes difficult if the person is not cooperative from the other end. Since it is an open medium, sometimes people use it more to harm than give genuine, constructive criticism.”
Bright future
Although there are several challenges in India in terms of Internet penetration, especially in Tier 2 cities, and awareness about such marketing is still low, the future of social media marketing in India looks bright.
“Given that the industry is largely run by traditional restaurant owners who are not very comfortable with DIY technology and ad platforms, there is a need for a lot of education and handholding. I will not say that most restaurant owners are aware of advantages that social media integration can bring, but I have seen owners getting really excited at the possibilities,” observes Tulsian.
“Social media marketing is poised for a very high growth in the next 3-5 years. Mobile penetration has brought more and more people on to social platforms, and it will soon become the number one way of targeting people,” opines Tulsian. He feels the control over a campaign (including budget, demographic targeting, re-targeting and improvising on the results) that social media platforms provide to a restaurateur or QSR chain owner, especially the smaller businesses, is its most attractive feature.
“India is such a large geography that unless you want to target people in masses, any kind of traditional media doesn’t fit in a small/medium business owner’s pocket. We need ways for local marketing, wherein we can decide who should see our ad and who should not.”
He adds, “A small business owner cannot let that budget sink at the wrong places by showing his ad to the 99 percent outside his target market, which is usually what happens when you place an ad in, let’s say, a newspaper. But social media allows him the freedom to come online and get his specific target group to see the ad. I feel this is what will drive social media marketing and it is going to create a market much larger than what we see today in traditional media, which is largely dependent on bigger brands.”
Banerjee opines that social media results are also easily measurable. “Social media is cost-effective, and with the tools we use, it is more measurable for the KPI’s we set to drive our business value proposition forward,” he says.
According to Kunal and Deepa Jain, it’s important for restaurants to be where their diners are spending more time. However, more than just branding, it’s important for them to engage with their audience to create interest and trust in their brand. Restaurants often use social media just to add seasonal offers; they don’t realise that it’s a great mechanism to understand the likes and dislikes of customers and to address complaints from dissatisfied customers.”
Customers are no longer afraid of voicing their opinions on social media websites, and ignoring them is no longer an option for restaurateurs, rather it is their responsibility.

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