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You've Got Them Talking......Now What?

If you are anything like me, you like to dig into things. The more I look into, the more I learn. The more I learn, the better job my firm can do for our restaurant partners.

One thing I always find curious when I'm digging around the internet, is when I see a restaurant's social media property, where they have a fairly large group of fans or followers. You see, not only do they have a large group of these folks, but the people are actually actively posting and interacting with the restaurant. Why is this interesting to me? It's because they aren't "truly" interacting, because the restaurant, in general, is hardly, if ever, responding to anything the fans put up on their pages, on review pages, or just posts in general, throughout the internet.

The obvious question here is this:

If you have worked so hard to make sure your food is spectacular, your service is on point and your customers rave about you, when they go online to rave to others, why wouldn't you validate their input (good or bad), and get in on the conversation?

Surely you can see the problem with this. As to the "why" this might happen, while it's hard to simply guess, it could likely be one of three reasons:

1) The restaurant simply doesn't care to get involved

2) The restaurant is too busy, or small to delegate this task to someone

3) The restaurant isn't sure what the best practices would be for interacting online with fans and customers

If you restaurant's reason falls in #1, or #2, just save your time and stop reading this article, and go to the article I posted two weeks ago about outsourcing your restaurant's social media. If though, you fall in the #3 category, here are a couple helpful tips that can get you on the path to interACTION:

1) Listen to your audience and engage them in conversation

Listening to your audience and engaging them is critically important for many reasons. If for no other reason, you choose to start engaging your audience and listening to them, do it to simply validate them. If I am a fan of your restaurant and I post on my twitter feed, how much I liked dining in your restaurant, a response of "thanks for dining with us", a "what did you have to eat?", or even just something as simple as a retweet, will make me exponentially happier about the dining experience that I just had. Why? Because the restaurant didn't just care about me, during the moment I was dining with them and spending money. They actually cared about me afterwards, when I'm no longer there, in front of them.

Something as simple as a "thank you" can solidify a relationship and build loyalty, frankly in a way that money can't buy.

But what if they post something bad? What if their food was sub par? What if they had a bad experience with your staff? Or what if they are just psycho and spend their days trolling the internet to make people feel bad about themselves? The same applies.

Validate their critique, and engage them to get down to the bottom of what happened. Do this publicly and not via direct messages or emails. Everybody can have a bad day once in a while. If you publicly "own it", and work actively to remedy the situation for the diner in question, everyone will see this and it will reinforce in their minds that you are all about customer service and loyalty.

Now what should you do if the person is just a psycho that gets a thrill from being a "keyboard tough guy"? Do nothing different. Give it your best couple of attempts to remedy the situation, in the most accommodating, polite fashion possible. Even if they are totally upset, a sane person will realize you are trying, and even if it doesn't totally make up for the bad experience, they will still say thanks. An insane person, on the other hand will never be happy and will never stop poking at you, every time you try to offer them an apology, or peace offering. All you can do is leave the interactions online, and let public opinion prevail. The public is smart. They will see that this person is impossible to deal with and they will not put any weight on their posts.

The important thing to remember is that unless it's inflammatory (e.g. racial slurs, offensive content, something illegal, etc.), do not delete it from your fan page, blog, google+ page, etc. It will upset people, make you look like you don't care about their feelings, and that is going to come back to haunt you.

2) Your patrons are more and more becoming the voice of your brand

Another reason to engage your audience is because of the way the restaurant, and that restaurant's voice, is changing. There is an interesting phenomenon going on, because of social media, where the restaurant's voice is more and more being dictated by the sentiments of it's regular diners. Diners take to social media and review sites and comment, not only about the experience they had, but the ambiance of the restaurant, the decor, the staff, the other patrons, the programming that may be on TV, the music selection, etc. In other words, EVERYTHING.

If you ignore everything that people post about your restaurant online, you will miss key opportunities to truly hear what people think about your restaurant. Not just your food, but even things you may not notice. You have undoubtedly worked very hard on your restaurant. As with everything though, sometimes your head is "so deep" in things that you fail to notice the little things. For instance, maybe the lighting in your restaurant is a little harsh. Let your diners be that second set of eyes that can help you make your restaurant the best experience possible. Not only that, but again, thank that person for their input, and you'll have a diner for life.

Now, does this mean that you should do everything that people suggest online, letting them completely dictate the voice and direction of your restaurant? Of course not. If though, you listen to your diners, with an open mind, you'll be amazed at some of the fantastic suggestions that will come your way.

Engaging your diners will give you huge returns in the long run. It requires persistence and dedication. For a busy restaurant owner, this could be challenging, but it's not impossible. There are many tools out there that will make it easier for you to keep tabs on all your social media properties, and many firms, like mine, out there that can help you, if you determine that you simply can't keep up with this.

Do you have any specific stories of how engaging a customer has made them a loyal customer that will never leave you? Do you have any review horror stories? What are they and how did you deal with them? I'd love to hear.

If you need help managing your social media, diner loyalty or restaurant marketing programs, please feel free to contact me anytime.

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