Today I spoke at the Foodservice News Restaurant Business series, a conference created to provide smart business techniques to restaurants owners, operators, and chefs.

As I do at the beginning of every speech, I asked the audience a bunch of questions about their use of both the traditional and new communication tools in order to grow their businesses. Never before have I spoken to a group so “with it.”

Nearly every single audience member (180 of them) has a LinkedIn account they actively use. About 75 percent have Facebook pages. And more than half have Twitter accounts they actively use. Most are using traditional PR and advertising offline and combining their efforts with online activities. This is really good for an audience that size. Usually I get lots of hands for LinkedIn and a few here and there for the others. And, typically, only half do any PR, advertising, or marketing. Pretty savvy group!

But what I learned in talking with people after the speech was the most interesting. Keep in mind the audience members all are in the restaurant industry, but I’ll bet there are some ideas here you can steal.

A restaurant is opening in six months and doesn’t have budget for a big launch. What do they do?

* They create a Twitter account, a Facebook fan page, and an eNewsletter database.

* They begin to build their community by asking people in and around their restaurant to become enthusiasts. Once an enthusiast,   you have the opportunity to vote on certain aspects of the restaurant and have access to special events, once they open.

* They ask for feedback on everything from fabric for chair covers and paint colors to menu items and flatware. Once open, the enthusiasts dine with them and see their opinion actually implemented!

* They develop menu items and ask their enthusiasts to vote on their favorites…and those are integrated into the concept.

* They have more than 2,000 enthusiasts who are active in crowdsourcing ideas.

    Imagine the brand loyalty they’re creating by asking for their guest’s advice, listening, and implementing their ideas! What if you were one of their enthusiasts? Would you continue to go to that restaurant? Would you take family and friends when they were visiting from out-of-town? How cool would it be to say, “Look at that plant. I chose it for them!”  Their guests feel like they own a part of the restaurant and that is very good for business.

    A meal preparation company has lots of moms who come in weekly to create meals for the coming week. Lots of their customers also don’t understand this social media “thing their kids are using”. But what does that have to do with the meal preparation company?

    * They create social media education courses moms can take while they prepare the week’s meals.

    * One week they focus on Facebook. The next Twitter. And so on.

    * They provide safety tools and help moms understand how to monitor what their kids are doing.

    * They teach the various ways kids can get around letting mom and dad see what they’re doing.

    * They help moms understand the nuances of what it is their kids are doing – from Facebook and MySpace to texting and games.

      This has nothing to do with meal preparation, but it creates brand loyalty because they’re focused on the needs of their customers, not just on what’s in it for them.

      A bakery sells only to restaurants, and pretty much to every restaurant in the greater city where they are located. They have the monopoly on bread in restaurants and even have a retail sale once a month, for two hours, where people stand in long lines waiting to get their loaf of bread. Why would they need to do any marketing, communication, or social media?

      * The CEO said 20 years ago he read a paper Andy Warhol wrote about marketing. He quotes it as saying, “You need to be in people’s homes every 12 weeks” and this bakery CEO lives by those words.

      * This CEO also believes people buy from people they like (smart man!) and he uses social media to create a face for is company. He is the brand. People buy from him.

      * Like Tony Hsieh at Zappos and the Kogi Korean truck in LA, the bakery has a face at the top who people relate to and feel like they know.

      * He believes social networking is just that – social and networking (duh!). He said, “I have friends I want to see, but I don’t have time to see everyone all the time. If I do have time, it’s money driven so I’m going to choose where I make money. Social networking allows me not only to grow my business, but also to keep up with my friends.”

        What are some of the online tools that you use to create brand loyalty or grow your business?

        Gini Dietrich

        Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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