I'm David Eckoff. I'm on a mission to talk with businesses in Virginia Highland that use social media to build their business and clients.
This week, I spoke with the owner and marketing manager of , a pasta and pizza restaurant on N. Highland Ave.
Rich Chey, owner, uses social media, to connect with customers in ways he never could have when he got into the restaurant business fifteen years ago.
"I tell my team, we need to appreciate each and every customer." Chey said. "We have to win our customers one at a time. If the new generation wants to communicate on Facebook and Twitter, we want to be there."
Chey provides the big picture strategic direction and marketing director Ashlee Lepore takes it from there.
"We always respond to people when they mention us in social media," Lepore said. "We'll thank them for coming in."
Customers say they like interaction.
"They do a nice job of responding and thanking you for your business when you tweet about them," said Virginia-Highland resident Melinda Moseley. "I think the interaction makes it fun - the conversation that develops wouldn't happen without social media."
At Your Service
Osteria makes smart use of social media for customer service.
"We've been doing this for a while," Lepore said. "Every so often, someone will complain on social media. And we've learned that you have to respond quickly. We want to make it right and turn the situation around."
She suggests fighting any kneejerk reaction to delete negative comments posted to your company's Facebook fan page.
"If someone posts something negative on your Facebook page, don't delete it," Lepore said. " Instead, respond, acknowledge it and work to resolve the problem. If you delete it, you make the person mad, and that person could be more likely to rant about your business elsewhere."
Facebook, Twitter and Groupon! Oh My!
There are some differences between the leading social networking sites that businesses should consider.
"On Facebook, we get a lot more interaction, with people clicking the "Like" button, and commenting on photos," Lepore said. "The great thing about Twitter is it's easier for people to spread the word more broadly."
In contrast to his enthusiasm for Facebook and Twitter, Chey is not a fan of social discount service Groupon.
"I think Groupon is great for consumers," Chey said. "But not great for restaurants. The people who use Groupon are Groupon-loyal, not restaurant-loyal. They go from one deal to the next. Restaurants aren't acquiring a lot of customers from them."
It's All About Relationships
When I first heard about Twitter four years ago, I thought it was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard of.
Fortunately, soon after, one of the early pioneers of Twitter showed me what's possible. NBC News cameraman Jim Long is part of the White House press corps and he provides a unique behind the scenes view via Twitter.
But here's where it gets really interesting.
People who follow Jim on Twitter have said they hadn't been watching network news, but now they're tuning in to NBC - because they've gotten to know him personally on Twitter.
"My top suggestion to Osteria is to have some more personal and fun tweets," customer Melinda Moseley said to me. "To show the personality of the restaurant, owner and staff."
Chey likes that idea.
"I like the personal dialog that a lot of chefs do," Chey said. "It's like a day in the life of. And it puts a face on the business. That's powerful for building a brand."
This Changes Everything. Again.
To help give a behind the scenes view from Osteria, the restaurant is giving Apple iPhones to its managers, to enable them to participate in social media.
"We're looking to be more conversational and less promotional in social media," Lepore said. "What's happening right now in the restaurant. It's quick and easy to type it on the app. And our managers love it because they get an iPhone."
"A Learning Process"
Lepore just launched an online survey to learn more about what people like best about how the company uses social media and what they'd like to see different.
"It’s a learning process," Lepore said. "We enjoy getting feedback from our social media friends."
The most interesting thing to come out of the survey so far?
"I was surprised to see that our Twitter followers want us to increase the frequency of our posts," Lepore said. "Shortly after we started our Twitter account, one follower said that we Tweeted too often. So we pared it down to once or twice a day. With this new bit of information, we will definitely start tweeting useful information more often."
Osteria customer Eric Brown agrees. He tells me that his biggest suggestion is to increase the frequency.
"People aren't on Twitter all day," Brown said. "If Osteria only tweets once a day, their message isn't going to reach the maximum audience."
Social Media for Fun and Profit
Lepore offers advice for businesses getting started in social media:
- Keep the tone conversational
- Give your followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at your business
- More useful info and less promotion. Follow the 12:1 rule (12 tweets about useful info, 1 promo tweet about self)
- Interact with guests: ask them what they think, thank them for helping to spread the word.
- On Twitter, leave a few character spaces so people have room to retweet and respond.
- Photos get a better response on Facebook
- Sometimes it’s difficult to think of what to post about. Keep a file where you a make a list of tweet ideas that you can pull from.
The bottom line: Social media is the ultimate relationship bonding tool for business. Get your staff involved with social media, so that your customers get to know them.