If you’re a restaurant owner and you’ve been investigating ways to market your restaurant, it’s very likely you’ve come across the phrase “social media” one or two million times. It’s been a full 10 years since Facebook debuted and changed the way people go about avoiding one another on a daily basis.  It’s also changed the way business is done.  In the dark ages of 2004, the most effective tools you had to increase business were a website, and a guy standing outside in a sandwich board handing menus to passersby so that they can throw them out for him.  In 2014, you’ve got to use social media, which can be more complicated but also much more rewarding.  According to experts, establishing a fun and likable virtual presence is the second best way to grow and retain your customer base.  “Wishing on a monkey’s paw” slips to #3 this year, while “Pact with the Devil” stays strong at #1 (especially among seafood places, where selling their sole is right in the business plan).  For those of you who aren’t quite ready to form a Limited Liability Company with the Prince of Darkness, we’ve got some tips for promoting your restaurant on social media that will create real impact.

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Photo by Sean MacEntee

Be a Person

In America, corporations are people, but they’re not the kind of people you’d want to have much of a relationship with.  So rule number one for you—whether you’re posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Google+ for that one guy with a circle—is to make it personal.  It’s all well and good to brand the account with your logo and name, but when you post, you should be yourself.  Or, if you’re not particularly likeable, have someone else be you.  Whether you’re the owner, manager, or part of the wait staff, your customers will be more likely to engage with your account—and your restaurant—if they know they’re interacting with a person.  Faceless entities are terrible conversationalists: humans relate to humans.  Cultivate a personality that complements your business, and watch as you increase the number of people that compliment your business.

Keep Your Customers Involved

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Photo by IStoleTheTV

If all you’re doing is pushing specials and coupons out to your followers, you’re just that guy in a sandwich board giving people things to put in the trash.  Social media provides you a way to interact with your customers and prospects in ways you couldn’t on the sidewalk.  For one thing, people you see outside your restaurant on the sidewalk are headed somewhere else.  That’s the nature of the sidewalk.  It’s better to get to people before they’ve decided where they want to go.  Someone checking out your fan page on Facebook is more likely to stick around than your man-on-the-street if there’s a conversation worth having.  This is the perfect place to have contests or promotions.  Have a photo contest with a gift card going to the best picture of your restaurant or its food.  Get customers’ input if you’re thinking of making changes to the menu.  If you’re lucky, some entitled, upper class couple will unfairly whine about you on Yelp, and you can write an amazing response that goes viral.  Don’t forget the “social” part of social media: you’re trying to create a space away from your shop that people will still want to hang out in.

Have Compelling Feeds

You don’t have to say a lot on Twitter—in fact, you couldn’t if you wanted to—but make sure that you’re saying very little a lot of the time.  Twitter’s a great place to document your days on the job and remind your customers that you’re there.  Behind-the-scenes pictures can be a good idea, especially if you all look like you’re having fun.  Start an #overheard hashtag for your cafe, and post some wacky out-of-context quotes (but be careful with this one, and don’t violate privacy). Pictures of your regular customers, or even just a public thank you because you feel like it, help to create a community atmosphere.  Link your Instagram account to Twitter and Facebook so that pictures show up across all your feeds.  Again, stay creative and have fun with these.  This is less about drumming up business, and more about entertaining and including your followers.

Post Special Offers or Discounts

Remember, way back when, roughly one sentence ago, when I said your social media marketing isn’t solely about drumming up business?  Well, that’s good advice and you’d be wise to take it.  Just don’t take it too far, because your social media marketing is also not about not drumming up business.  A well timed offer on Facebook or Twitter can turn a slow day into a busy one in a hurry.  You can do your own Groupon style promotion, offering discounts if your post gets enough Shares or Retweets.  Push out your specials of the day.  You don’t have to restrict deals to just your followers (although it’s a good idea to give them some special treatment).  But with Facebook and Twitter, you can geo-target your ads to people in your local area, regardless of whether they follow you or not.  You can further refine your ads to people with specific interests.  If you’re a coffee shop, tweeting specials to local people who’ve Liked or Followed Starbucks would be a lot more effective than just blasting a world wide tweet to fans of Panda Wrestling or tube socks.

Photos, Photos, and More Photos

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Photo by Alpha

Yes, we mentioned before the types of photos you can post to promote your restaurant, but it bears repeating because of this particular fact: photos are the most shared type of posts on Facebook.  They attract more Likes, Comments, and clickthroughs, even when they aren’t photos of cats.  People just engage more—much more—with photo posts: show them tempting images of your food (unless your food is a cat: this is the one time a feline presence hurts your picture’s likeability).  You can do a riff on the bathroom selfie phenomenon, where your employees take selfies while washing their hands before returning to work.  Encourage your diners to take photos of their food and share them, then take pictures of them taking pictures of their food and share those.  There aren’t too many hard and fast rules to what’s acceptable.  Every shop and its loyal customers will be different,and its up to you know what your customers would like to see.

Find out more about Kounta’s Point of Sale For Restaurants .

Employees Make Great Social Media Ambassadors

So, we’ve given you an awful lot to think about here, and quite the to-do list.  And this is as it should be, because you’re a restaurant owner, still we recognize that there are few of you out there whose time might be more constrained and you might not be able to spend your day posting and laughing with your customers.  Encourage your staff to join in, and post pictures or thoughts during a shift, giving your business an @ mention in the process.  When they have a down moment, pictures from the line cooks in your kitchen, or waitstaff on the floor can be just as interesting to your followers.  When they see you and your staff broadcasting their lives from your restaurant, they’ll be more excited to join you and be part of the fun.