Social media – a potential goldmine for the licensed trade

The pubs and bars industry remains a challenging place be. With competition for punters ever more fierce, the rising price of food and alcohol, higher rent costs and increased business rates have made conditions ever more difficult. Savvy owners and operators are always looking for something to give them the edge that will help them beat the market, keeping their bars full and their customers thirsty.

Paid advertising is hit and miss, and can end up being very expensive, and with budgets ever tighter, a well-run social media presence could be just the tonic.

A few shining examples aside, the industry has been slow to capitalise on the social media revolution. Pubs and bars typically either don’t have a social media presence, don’t maintain it properly, or aren’t making the most of it. Wetherspoons even went so far as to shut down all its social media channels, saying its managers were spending too much time on social media, and not enough time running the pub.

Wetherspoons had 900 separate accounts, each being run by a general manager with little or no guidance or training. The issue was never social media itself; it was not having an adequate or coherent social media strategy.

The industry’s failure to properly engage with social media represents a huge opportunity for those who are willing to. An opportunity to reach out and engage with customers being neglected by the competition. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that?

Properly understanding your target market is the first step. Taking the time to understand what they want and what interests them, will allow you to talk in a language that will resonate with them.

As tempting as it may be to promote yourself as often as possible, it is important to avoid relentlessly plugging your products. Research shows that the feeds which do so quickly lose their followers’ attention. @CafeRougeTweet has fifteen thousand followers, but engagement is low – partly because the follower base doesn’t entirely reflect its target demographic, and partly because their followers are presumably becoming tired of the relentless torrent of croque monsieurs and halloumi fries filling their news feeds.

Post content that you know will interest or capture the imagination of your target market. Show them a human side to the brand. Get their engagement and then, when you plug the occasional special offer or new menu, you’ll have their attention.

It is equally, if not more important, to focus on your current customers as well as attracting new ones. A loyal social media following among your existing or past customers is gold dust: let those who already love you tell others how great you are – a peer to peer referral is a powerful thing; get your posts liked or shared by a happy customer, and you reach all their friends and family without lifting a finger.

Don’t be afraid of the occasional bad review or negative comment on social media. Handled well, bad feedback is an opportunity to demonstrate humility and reason, and can often be turned to your advantage. Don’t ignore a negative comment on social media though, be proud of your brand, but be humble if you’re in the wrong.

Engage with your followers’ comments, good or bad, and they’ll be encouraged to keep on engaging. Brands often seem to ignore even the positive posts – a simple like or comment back goes a long way, and will help you build the kind of community online that will quickly turn into real life customers.

In these demanding times, taking on more than you have the time to maintain is unwise. Posting regular, varied content is essential to your success on social media – if you don’t have time to do that, then consider moving things over to an expert; not only will you have more time to concentrate on your day-to-day tasks, you’ll also be rest assured, knowing that your digital image is being maintained by people who know exactly what they are doing.

Sam Rogers is a director at hospitality industry PR and social media experts, Uprise PR

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