I used to fear technology. Part of my problem was that I assumed every new gizmo would be a passing phase. It’s even worse with digital media — I avoided Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare like the plague because I didn’t want to put the time into developing profiles only to watch them become obsolete in the wake of new fads. By now you’ve probably realized that these sites have staying power. Yet, after speaking with a few dozen of you at International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, I can see that you’re still confused about the value of social media. Let’s clear some things up and talk about how these free platforms can help you stay in touch with loyal customers while simultaneously attracting new ones.
Now that you’ve finally signed up for an account, what are you going to post? Most pizzerias I follow on Twitter love telling me about their daily specials. That’s fine, but please don’t overload me with information I’m already getting from your Web site and door hangers. Twitter is an excellent opportunity to give people access to your restaurant in a way you never could before. Post a photo of your employees having a pizza box folding competition. Show me your chef pulling fresh mozzarella. Just got a batch of fresh tomatoes from the farmers’ market? Let us see it! These things might seem mundane to you, but your customers will love the behind-the-scenes peek at your restaurant.
Social media platforms also give you the opportunity to extend your identity beyond the walls of your location. I love it when restaurateurs post about other restaurants. If I like your pizza, there’s a good chance I’ll follow your hamburger recommendation. Not only does it help me understand your aesthetic, it also helps you maintain relationships with others in the restaurant industry. A friend of mine, who owns a popular pizzeria in Brooklyn, just took a trip to San Francisco in which he posted photos from visits to a dozen different pizzerias. He wasn’t spying on the competition or making the rounds for PR purposes, but seeing how much he supports others in the industry makes me even more excited to support him.
The key to working with social media platforms is presenting a well-rounded picture of what your business represents. If you’re into supporting the community, use Facebook to congratulate the high school baseball team on their big win last night (even if they are sponsored by your competitor). There’s an important council meeting at city hall? Help remind your neighbors via a short tweet. Without getting too political, you can present yourself as a member of a community rather than a business looking to sell products.
When people enter your restaurant they see more than a menu with prices, so please don’t define yourself online by merely blasting out your lunch specials. Use Facebook and Twitter to extend your complete identity into a community that’s based on sharing, as your fans and followers are primed to click a button that will push your message to other like-minded people. There’s no way for 140 characters to match the personal interaction you have with your customers, but imagine the power of extending your reach to an ever-increasing community of people who are just waiting for another excuse to walk through your door.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.