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When the president of the most powerful nation on earth uses social media to communicate with his voters you know that it’s a medium that can’t be ignored. At the same time the amount of times politicians or media figures lose their jobs over what they’ve posted online shows that used badly, social media can have a very negative effect. A small business operator needs to use it in such a way that it attracts loyal customers and promotes the brand.

If you’re still skeptical about how useful social media can be, take a look at the following statistics: 48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook as soon as they get up. About 28% check their Facebook on their smartphones before even getting out of bed. The 35+ demographic now represents more than 30% of the entire user base of Facebook. This shows that even your customers who are over 35 are taking an interest in and making use of the various social media platforms.

Creativity is Key. Find your Social Media Girl (or Guy)

A big digital budget will get you more views but it is creativity and a good understanding of your customers that will drive engagement. Fast food brands are no strangers to social media and the industry has some of the highest online engagement rates, receiving comments and tweets that run into the thousands daily. In Ireland, for example, McDonald’s, Eddie Rockets and Starbucks all have huge Facebook followings.

Wendy’s, the American burger chain unexpectedly went huge on social media when the 20-something manager of their Twitter account started engaging with customers in a witty and sassy way. The ‘Wendy’s Social Media Girl’ went viral to the benefit of the brand. It’s no coincidence she’s a millennial. The best person to manage your social media account is someone who really enjoys and understands the online world. If you don’t engage with social media much yourself, then it’s unlikely you’ll have the knack of engaging customers.

Consider outsourcing your social media management to a company that specialises in it. Or is there someone on your team who might be natural? If so, it’s worth giving them responsibility for your online identity, perhaps promoting them to Marketing Manager and incentivising them, with bonuses for more ‘likes’. If you don’t yet have Social Media Girl (or Guy), then next time you’re recruiting, ask about social media usage as well as restaurant experience.

Six Key findings that will optimise social media engagement

A new study by BrandBastion, analyzing over 20,000 comments posted on 11 quick-service brands’ social media ads, reveals a few key findings that brands can learn from when engaging on social media. A small independent restaurant that can successfully put these lessons into action stands a higher chance of turning prospects into customers and customers into loyal fans.

1. A little goes a long way
Don’t over-post – if you keep hitting your customers with constant updates you could put them off – a little goes a long way.
BrandBastion’s analysis found that out of all the positive comments received by QSR brands, almost 80% were about the creativity of the ad itself. This indicates an opportunity for a small operator to use their creativity to drive long-term brand loyalty.
Back to Wendy’s! They have become known for their amusing and sometimes downright ruthless “roasts” of competitors – often McDonald’s. This style resonates with its millennial audience because they clearly display an understanding of pop culture and speak the visual language – memes, gifs etc – of the audience.
Being funny is definitely one of the best ways of engaging with your customers, especially in Ireland, but you can also appeal to other moods. Starbucks taps into the power of emotions very well by creating posts designed to evoke the specific mood of each season—from warm, cozy colors and images in the fall, to bright pops of colour in the summer. Remember the #unicornfrappucino? That hashtag received 180,000 Instagram posts in one week.

2. There is such a thing as a free lunch
Another surprising finding is that people are almost twice as likely to share a positive post about a brand than a negative one. That should encourage a business to post positive things about their food and their business.
Taco Bell started a petition for its own emoji and got over 33,000 signatures and approval from the Unicode Consortium for its taco emoji. The publicity Taco Bell got from this was enormous, all without spending a single ad dollar.
A recent study into the behaviour of 680,000 Facebook users found that “emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion,” leading people to experience the same emotions without direct interaction between people. So seeing a friend ‘like’ a post could make you happier about a brand even though you did not have a conversation with your friend about how much he liked the brand!

3. Listen to your customers, including the grumpy ones
The study found that 27% of negative comments on QSRs social media ads were directly related to the menu. This should be used as useful feedback. As some kid who made good called Bill Gates put it, ‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.’ It can allow real-time responses to customer demand. This feedback is faster and probably more honest than the information you get from a survey.
For example, Burger King introduced their own spicy chicken nuggets when Wendy’s took theirs off their menu. Wendy’s customers started their own online petition to have them reinstated.

4. Optimise Your Posting Times
It’s important to think about the frequency and the content of your posts. If you post too often people reading it might come to see it as spam, too seldom could mean not getting noticed. Different times of the day have higher engagements than others – the highest traffic comes between 1 pm and 3 pm – lunch and just after.

What is the best time of the day to post?
1 pm to get the most shares
3 pm to get the most clicks
9 am to 7 pm is when most interaction takes place.

5. Generate More Interactive posts:
Think in images and video as these get 39% more interaction. Take pictures of good-looking plates of food to attract some engagement. Also, keep it short and sweet – posts with 80 characters or less get 27% more engagement.

6. Use online tools:
Finally, ask the experts – Facebook and the other Social Media platforms provide free online support and tutorials on how to best use their sites.

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