Hashtags and Restaurant Social Media – What You Need To Know

hashtags-facebookWhile hashtags might have begun life as easily referenced Twitter subjects they are not just the punchline of a Jimmy Fallon video (http://goo.gl/PJvuPM).  They have evolved into a unique communications platform unto themselves that can serve as the connective tissue between social media channels – and demographics.  They can instantly contextualize, categorize and connect your social media posts to your customer base as well as tap in to a larger conversation.

Hashtags can create compelling conversation points that invite participation and focus dialog around your messaging.  They can also serve the dual role of connecting your posts to a larger online community, while also inviting that same group in to see how your post relates to their interests.  A good example might be a post about your restaurant’s patronage of a local Farmer’s Market with a geo-specific tag such as #NYCLocavore – relating to the subject and furthering the conversation.

Relevance – Last year’s Super Bowl was the best indication of how ubiquitous hashtag use has become to brands at all levels.  Hashtags were used in 58% of all commercials, up from 7% just two years ago, while the use of URLs, Facebook or Twitter tags had all declined significantly.  Hashtags are a one stop shopping solution to referencing your message across all platforms simultaneously.

Universality – Hashtags are now recognized by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google +, Youtube and Vine.  The importance of horizontal messaging is now more important than ever.  Demographics for all of these platforms can vary dramatically – Twitter use is exploding with the over fifty crowd while Vine dominates with everyone under the age of twenty-five.  Hashtags provide a way to create connections between groups – with your restaurant being the center of the conversation.  Engagement and Viral reach can be multiplied exponentially.

Of course, as with any of these platforms and social marketing tools there is just a big a potential for misuse and self-defeating excess.  Incorrectly executed hashtags can just as easily marginalize your message – or even make it the subject of ridicule.

#Do’s and #Don’ts

#Organic – Create tags that relate to your message seamlessly and intuitively.  Readability counts – keep it brief, memorable and easy to spell.   Alliteration is your friend – clunky locutions are not.  Think #PerfectPizzaPairings vs. #BestWinesWithPizza.

#OriginalityCounts – Strive to come up with tags that are specific to your restaurant and content.  #DeliciousPizza or #GreatSteak don’t really drive the conversation – either practically or conceptually –   #FreshBurrattaPizza or #DryAgedSirloin do.   #SalsPizza isn’t going to do it – #SalsPizzaOn3rd should – always check first just to make sure.

#DoubleCheck – Take a second look to make sure that the hashtag you’re using can’t be misinterpreted or turned against you.  Recently McDonald’s used #McDStories to elicit happy anecdotes from satisfied customers. As you may have guessed  what they actually got was an easily referenced online collection of burger related horror stories.

#BeSpecific – One of the biggest crimes in the Hashtag universe is the use of generic terms, or, even worse, hashtagging every word in a sentence.  Hashtags such as #Food, #Burger, #Delicious become meaningless noise and more than anything else portray you as just slightly desperate for attention.  Hashtags augment and amplify – they connect and compliment – they do not compensate for lazy messaging.  Be creative and precise.

#UseCapitals – You can quickly see why British singer Susan Boyle regrets not using caps in her now infamous “#susanalbumparty” twitter post.  There is very little upside for saving the extra seconds by not using capitals in your tags, while ignoring them can have a potentially huge downside.  (Or, in this case, underside.)

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#BeSuccinct – Do not add more than a few hashtags to any post.  Tweets with three or less tags are twice as likely to be acted upon (favorited, answered, retweeted).  It is almost never a good idea to hashtag more than two or three words together – and it is definitely a bad idea to hashtag an entire sentence unless you actually are Jimmy Fallon.  While we all dream of creating the immediately adopted, ubiquitous meme, it is much more important to effectively convey your message.  Save all that creativity for your personal posts.

#Accessability –It’s important, especially when writing about food, that you establish a commonsense baseline for exactly how esoteric your cooking references will be.  You want people to follow the conversation, not Google it.  #PorkStuffedCabbage – yes – #PetitsFarci – no.

#Tools – there are online aggregation services – Tag Board and Rebel Mouse are two of the best – that will collect and collate your hashtags.  This is especially useful if you are running a promo using a hashtag as a reference point.  For instance – you invite patrons to post photos of their favorite dessert at your restaurant with including a specific hashtag and offer a prize for the post with the most interactions.  You can then compile all the entries into one handy page.  Tagboard is also very useful for checking for pre-existing hashtags across all platforms.  Another great tool is Rite Tag which actually checks your hashtag to see how original it is and what the statistical chances of it being discovered via hashtag search.

#Remember – be creative, succinct and consistent.  Hashtags can consolidate your messaging across platforms and help you reach and engage a much broader audience.  Not using them, or using them ineffectively, will deprive you of an increasingly vital communications tool.

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Food Photography For Social Media

Photos – yes, of course you understand that pictures of food are an important part of any restaurant’s promotional campaign, whenever tweeting or posting an update about the menu, wine, or even a new cocktail, it should always be accompanied by a picture.  But you would be amazed at the number of restaurant owners that pay photographers for print ads and website layouts – and then post out-of-focus, badly lit, poorly framed photos of their menu on their social media sites for thousands of people to see.  There are famous restaurants in NYC, with chef-owners that are household names, that regularly post pictures of their offerings that are almost unidentifiable as food.

Here are several basic tips on food photography. Invest in an inexpensive point and shoot camera, just make sure it has a macro setting.    Shoot at the highest resolution from at least eighteen inches away – any closer and the autofocus is going to be useless.

  • Keep the Background Clean

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Make sure there is a color contrast between the background and the food; avoid using the same color or similar shade for both. Keep the background simple and uncluttered. If unsure, stick to a plain white background.

  • Adjust the White Balance

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Adjust the white balance on your camera according to what you’re shooting. Meat should always be shot in warm tones – a blue-ish tinge caused by fluorescent lights can make the dish look less appetizing.

  • Use Natural Lighting

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When you can, try to shoot with natural lighting. Shoot during the day near a window where you would get plenty of natural sunlight. If you must shoot at night, avoid using flash directly on the food as it is too harsh. Instead, use a flash diffuser or have the flash bounce off a ceiling or wall.

  • Use a Tripod When Possible

Most food photography will be done indoors, where there might not be enough lighting. Use a tripod whenever you can as it beats trying to hold very still for a long amount of time.

  • Small Details Make a Big Difference

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Don’t disregard the small stuff. Keep in mind that using nice cutlery and a clean serving plate/bowl could make all the difference in transforming a nice photo into a fantastic one.

  • Get Up Close

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Instead of only taking photos of a full plate of food, take some macro shots too. Getting up close to your subject will bring out the textures and finer details, making it more interesting and intriguing.

  • Cut it, Slice it, Dice it!

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As with anything, you shouldn’t just take something for face value. With food, sometimes it’s what’s inside that can create a great shot.

  • Take Photos from All Angles

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Don’t just take a photo from a bird’s eye view, try different angles. Left, right, top, bottom. Feel free to even move the food around and come up with different compositions.

  • Use Props

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Don’t be afraid to jazz up the set. Maybe a bottle of wine in the background with your steak? Just remember to keep it simple – too many props can cause a distractions.

For post production editing I’ve found a great tool called Irfanview.  It features simple, intuitive tools for brightening and balancing the colors – and it’s free.  Remember – with a little attention to detail food photography isn’t difficult to do well, it is, however, all too easy to do poorly.

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