Going Mobile – Why Your Restaurant Needs To Be Smartphone Accessible

OTTO_with_IPHONE4(1)Mobile – Easily the most important trend this year – it is also the one that offers the biggest opportunity.  Here’s the skinny – mobile internet use in the U.S. is set to overtake wired use this year – and this shift is happening even faster for social media.   To quote Facebook in last month’s quarterly SEC filing: “[We] anticipate that the rate of growth in mobile usage will exceed the growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future.”  What does this portend for the hospitality industry?  Think it’s an accident that Google lists restaurants and bars on their smartphone browser and not on their desktop version?  It is now estimated that 65% of all restaurant website traffic is mobile generated – and that number is not only growing, but also skews upward for a younger demographic with a relatively large discretionary income.

This means that if your site is not mobile ready at least three out of ten visitors will find it useless – and that’s not even the worst part.  If someone is browsing from their smartphone and cannot access your site they are going to go to the next option – which is guaranteed to be a review site, such as Yelp or Zagat.  Besides the fact that there is no surety that the info those sites provide will be correct or up to date, you are also subject to the whims of your restaurant’s latest reviewer.  Not an attractive scenario – but one that is, happily, easy to remedy.

There are many online services that can easily create a mobile version of your site.  With the addition of a few lines of code to your existing website it will then be automatically loaded when your site is displayed on a small screen device.  These services range in price from free (ad driven) to a monthly fee structure that can be scaled to a single store or restaurant group.  Consult with your IT provider to determine which service is best for you – it may even be included in your web hosting plan.   Minimally the mobile page should include: Hours of operation, contact info, map link, menu link, click-to-call button, Open Table link and social connectivity.

A small investment in time and money can leap-frog you ahead of the competition – especially the restaurant sites with the extensive Flash-based slideshow of Venice and the Tony Bennett soundtrack that takes ten minutes to load.

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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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