2011 September: SOCIAL HOUR

When Facebook was first introduced, the site was the online version of the Wild West, devoted primarily for collegiate use and of little consequence to a young suburban mother like myself. Fast forward a couple of years, and just about everyone I know –– including my in-laws, my 83-year-old great aunt and my friend’s dog –– has a Facebook account. Facebook reports a whopping 750 million active users –– and of those, 50 percent log on to Facebook on any given day. That’s a lot of potential customers you’re not reaching if you haven’t already built an online social media presence.

Twitter, on the other hand, hit the social networking scene in 2006 and has had more than 200 million users. Here, users send out microbursts of text-based messages called Tweets in 140 characters or less. That 140-limit includes your user name (e.g., @BellasPizza) and photo or Web links.

As a small business owner, you’re not limited to using one or the other. There are pros and cons to both, but the capability to link the two sites –– for example, to post on Facebook and have it also applied as a Tweet on Twitter –– makes it a win-win for users.

(For the record, Facebook overtook ailing Myspace as the No. 1 social media site in April 2008. Since then, audience measurement site Quantcast estimates that Myspace’s monthly U.S. visitors ranked at just under 20 million and in June of this year, Myspace laid off a substantial amount of employees.)

Setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account is free and easy –– all you need is someone to maintain them. Bill Jacobs at Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago maintains the majority of his company’s social media presence through apps on his smart phone. He can Tweet a new special, upload a photo of one of the company’s new signature brews to Facebook or give a shout out to the employee of the month on both sites –– all without leaving his busy dining room. “We are active on Twitter daily and we update Facebook either every day or every other day,” Jacobs says.

Ray Perkins, owner of Chubby Ray’s Louisville Pizza Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, also uses Facebook to update his customers. “It’s all about making friends,” he says. “People are going to eat and they like to buy from their friends. It doesn’t hurt that we have excellent food, too.”

Here are some tips to set up and maintain accounts for two of the most popular social media sites:

• Twitter. To set up a Twitter account, visit www.twitter.com. You’ll need to submit your full name, e-mail and create a password. On the next page, you’ll then be prompted to tighten your password if it’s easily detectable (use a combination of numbers and letters for maximum security). You will also learn if the username you’d prefer to use is taken –– all usernames begin with the @ symbol (our own is @PizzaToday). If your restaurant’s name is Bella’s Pizza, there could be dozens of similar names in use across the country. Try adding on a street name or city abbreviation if you’ve got several locations. You’ve got the option to create separate Twitter accounts if your company’s units act independently (for instance, a downtown location may offer slices while its sister suburban location might not). A good example of this practice is exhibited by Tutta Bella, which has several locations in the Seattle area. The company’s different locations have their own accounts and Tweet separately –– @tuttabellaWL is the company’s West Lake location, while @MyTuttaBella is its corporate account.

Once you’ve set up your Twitter account, start advertising it on your marketing by encouraging your customers to follow you. To do so, those that have Twitter accounts simply hit “FOLLOW” on their own pages, and your Tweets become visible in their new streams.

It’s important not to inundate your followers with too many Tweets (I’ve often “unfollowed” companies who seem to be clogging my feed with Tweets every three minutes). Tweeting your lunch special once every half-hour in the morning will get the attention of those who glance through their Twitter feeds periodically.

Other potential topics to post on Twitter:

• new drink specials

• happy hour offerings

• special events such as karaoke, live bands or kids’ nights

• job openings

• special awards

• Facebook. Here at Pizza Today, we originally set up our company Facebook account as a private account that required approving anyone who wished to join our social network. We shuttered that account for the more user friendly Facebook fan page about 18 months ago.

Global online intelligence service Experian Hitwise reports that social media users spend more than four-and-a-half hours a month on Facebook, compared to two hours and 12 minutes on Twitter. Much of that is due to the fact that Facebook moves at a slower pace –– posts tend to remain in users’ news feeds for a longer time than on Twitter. Here, you’re able to post longer messages to your users, maintain galleries of photos and create events to which guests can RSVP.

A great example of a Facebook fan page is Eddie’s Pizzeria Cerino in Ohio. “We have been managing a Facebook page for the pizzeria for over two years. We find it to be an extremely effective and cost efficient marketing tool. We post at least four to five times a week, usually with a food picture,” says owner Eddie Cerino, who maintains a personal page for his own private use, but his company’s fan page features daily specials like the Veal Saltimbocca, pictures of his chefs in the kitchen and gorgeous food photography shot by his wife. “Having a wife who is a professional food photographer and graphic designer allows us to post great photos of our product cheaply and easily. We constantly have guests tell us that the latest post on Facebook is the reason they are dining with us tonight,” he says.

Still, you don’t need professional photography to get your point across –– feel free to post simple cellphone shots of new dishes, bands in your dining room and behind-the-scenes shots of cooking (Pizza Today’s Facebook fans enjoy photos of our in-house chefs and artists during photo shoots –– and I shoot many with my smart phone).

To set up a Facebook fan page, you’ll first need to set up a personal account for yourself. Next, go to www.facebook.com/facebookpages and click the ‘Create a Page” tab on the right side of the page. On the next screen, click “Local Business or place” and the site will then prompt you through the easy process.

You also have the option to link your Facebook and Twitter pages, so that if you post on Facebook, it automatically posts on Twitter. The only downside to this practice is that if you post pictures on Facebook, it will link to Twitter — but if users are on Twitter and do not have a Facebook account, they will not be able to see the photos.

When it comes to maintaining your social media, it’s best to either do it yourself or delegate to someone you trust, such as a manager or longtime employee to avoid abuse or accidental slips (last March, car manufacturer Chrysler issued a public apology after an inappropriate Tweet went out on its corporate account via an employee of its social media agency of record who thought he was on his own account. Oops). Also, avoid multiple accesses to your accounts –– you don’t want three people Tweeting or posting on Facebook the same announcement.

It’s also important to track your Facebook comments and return Tweets –– this is direct feedback from your clientele and is a great communication tool. “We also notice interaction with our staff and customers on our site,” says Cerino. “The staff loves discussing specials and how many they sold on their last shift. They also enjoy commenting and posting photos of company functions such as Christmas parties and holiday cookouts. Customers appreciate and feel as they are part of the pizzeria family.”

Finally, should you monitor your employees’ personal social media? Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza had to deal with public backlash concerning YouTube videos of two errant employees conducting multiple violations in a store that was eventually shuttered. (The company later earned a public relations award for its handling of the events). California Pizza Kitchen tracked down and fired an employee who complained on Twitter about a uniform change. In a world where social media is the everyday norm, it is wise to include a section concerning social media in your employee handbooks. Policing your employees’ social media use is time consuming, but ultimately can affect your brand’s image and your bottom line.

Once you’ve got your social media designed, this is not something to “set and forget.” You’re going to need to stay atop of the constantly changing landscape of social media sites, such as the recently launched Google+. Doing so will help you stay on top of your marketing game –– and your competitors.

Mandy Wolf Detwiler is managing editor at Pizza Today. Visit our own social media sites by using the Facebook keywords PIZZA TODAY and following us at @PizzaToday on Twitter.