Show, don’t tell–the “next” concept in social media

The newly opened Next Restaurant in Chicago, co-created by Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas, is not just about the food (though it very much is), it’s also about the experience. According to their website, here’s how they describe the concept:

“Unlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices. Please arrive within 15 minutes of your ticket time or we may be unable to serve you. Just like a sporting event, concert, or theater ticket all sales are final.”

What’s the price of these “golden” tickets? A minimum of $100 per person (plus wine pairings starting at $50). The Aviary, the adjoining bar, follows suit–but rest assured, your $18 drinks are shaken and stirred not by a bartender, but by a “cocktail chef.”

Without any advertising outside of social media and word-of-mouth, Next has already sold 20,000 tickets and the demand for tickets is so high that newly released tables on their website sell in just under 3 seconds! The hoopla and madness continues on their Facebook page where fans wait intently for an announcement releasing same-day tables. So how do the creators behind Next sell their high-priced concept restaurant to potential customers? They don’t talk about the quality, rarity and taste of their food, the perfectionism that goes into their presentation, the people behind the scenes that make it all happen, the meticulous service and the almost obssessive-compulsive attention to detail–they show it. An image is more powerful than words and if these videos don’t sell you on Next and Aviary, nothing else could.

Takeaway: In order to sell your concept, idea or product, don’t tell customers what to expect or why they should buy, show them. Use YouTube in much the same way as a television commercial–it may not reach as many people, but it costs less and gives you more than 30 seconds to show and sell.

Posted in Dining, Food, Social Media, YouTube | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Be useful or be gone: how to connect with customers on Facebook and keep them engaged

Getting customers to “like” your brand on Facebook is only half the battle when it comes to social media engagement—the real struggle is to keep them “liking” you. Consumers are very selective about the brands they choose to support and what they allow to show on their wall or feed. Some fear that brand messages will crowd out wall posts from friends and family members while others perceive conversations started by marketers as not being valuable (offering entertainment, novelty, or worthwhile monetary incentives). Consumers are less tolerant of irrelevant Facebook posts than they are of irrelevant emails or Tweets, which means they are more likely to “unlike” your brand to save precious space on their walls.

Be useful or be gone.

According to a study by ExactTarget, 40% of Facebook users who become fans do so to receive discounts and promotions, 39% become fans to show their support for a brand to others and 36% join to get a freebie (sample or coupon). So it seems that the driving force for “liking” a brand online is to get discounts.

Retailer Ann Taylor Loft understands this consumer motivation and frequently rewards their fans on Facebook with coupons or special discounts. Recently, they even turned a technical problem into a marketing opportunity. While their website was down for maintenance, Ann Taylor Loft directed their customers to their Facebook page and for “liking” them, they would receive a $10 discount off a $50 purchase.

But marketers face a challenge–they must play their cards right in order to keep their Facebook fans. Not enough useful content or too much promotion and you are gone. According to the study, the top reasons people “unlike” brands on Facebook are that the company posted too frequently (44%), the content became repetitive or boring over time (38%), they only “liked” the company to take advantage of a one-time offer (26%), they didn’t offer enough deals (24%) and their posts were too promotional (24%).

In total, 63% of consumers said they were as likely or more likely to purchase something from a company after ending their Facebook relationship. Another 18% said they only “unlike” a company if they never bought anything in the first place. It seems the correlation between “unliking” a company and continuing to do business with that company is rather complicated.

Takeaway: Facebook remains a viable channel to engage customers. However, you should not put too much emphasis on how many times you are “liked” but rather on keeping an engaged community of fans who like you enough to advertise your brand within their circle of friends.

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Social media for social good

Social media isn’t just for selling goods or services, it can make an impact and send a powerful and serious message to its target audience. For instance, say that you’re in the public sector–what could you possibly do with social media? Quite a lot as it turns out. The London Metropolitan Police has created an innovative way to combat teenage crime using social media. In their “Choose A Different Ending” interactive videos on YouTube, teens can choose to make several different choices in a storyline and experience the consequences of their actions. It’s pretty powerful stuff that gets your heart and mind racing. The campaign succeeds in capturing the attention of the teen target audience because it’s an interactive game, it puts the player in control and best of all–unlike in real life–it has a reset button.

Similarly, organizations like UNICEF are using social media to catch the attention of a jaded audience. Not only is this UNICEF video a great example of guerrilla marketing, but it contains shock value (dirty water dispensed from a vending machine) and an emotional appeal (won’t you help a child get clean water for 40 days for just $1). It goes to show that social media can be used to impact social good and not just the bottom line.

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Is ROI getting lost in social media?

According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, nearly one-third (31%) of companies surveyed do not measure the effectiveness of social media and less than one-quarter (23%) are using social media analytic tools.

With social media, a return on investment (ROI) is not just a monetary value–it could be a return on engagement, participation or involvement. Companies can measure the duration of time consumers spent interacting with the brand, the value of time spent participating in social media, touchpoints and the potential return of each touchpoint. A social media return can also be a return on trust, measuring customer loyalty and the likelihood to give referrals.

Let’s look at an example–McDonald’s recently ran this (see video) interactive billboard campaign in Sweden. The innovative campaign combines the use of mobile technology and digital billboards. The concept is simple–participants get to control the billboard and turn it in to a personal game. You don’t have to download an app, which usually discourages participation, instead the phone picks up your location and lets you join the game via a website address. If you play the game for 30 seconds without losing, you win a coupon for free food at the nearest McDonald’s.

While this campaign is certainly interactive and engaging and drives people into McDonald’s stores to redeem their coupons, it may not be financially profitable (there’s the cost of the campaign itself and the cost of all of the free food being given away). If most winners come in just to claim their free prize and purchase nothing more, then was there a valuable return? A monetary one, probably not. A return on engagement, participation and involvement–definitely.

Traditional ROI is calculated: ROI = (revenue – investment) / Investment * 100.

Social media ROI can be calculated: ROI = (revenue – investment) + targeted engagement (new clients) / investment * 100.

How many new leads or conversions did the McDonald’s campaign establish? It’s unclear. McDonald’s goal seemed to be just to engage people and maintain a good customer feeling around their brand. If a monetary return was sought, the coupon should have been for a free food item with the purchase of another item or a discount on your next McDonald’s purchase. Measuring the redemption rate of those coupons (not just a freebie) would be a better indication of new leads and conversions as a result of the campaign. After all, social media is not just about being social, it’s about making money.

Takeaway: Set goals that define what type of return you are trying to get–a monetary return on investment or a return of a different kind (engagement, participation, involvement or trust) and launch social media campaigns that accomplish those goals.

Needs Improvement: More companies need to use analytics tools to measure the effectiveness of their social media efforts. What good is spending money on social media campaigns if you do not know the return you are getting?

Posted in Food, Mobile Devices, ROI, Social Media | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fun facts and clever uses for QR codes

QR (quick response) codes seem to be popping up in more and more places these days. These 2D barcodes, scannable by smartphones, were originally created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994 for tracking vehicle parts. Now they are being used by marketers everywhere: on food packaging, billboards, magazine ads, clothing tags, real estate signs and car stickers at dealerships. They’re appearing in museums and galleries, even in some unusual places–like on tombstones.

Fun Facts:

According to a survey by, 52% of participants had seen or heard of QR codes. Of those who use social media, 57% of Facebook and Twitter users said they have scanned a QR code at least once in the past year and as many as 40% had done so five or more times in the past year. From July to December of 2010, there was a 1200% increase in the scanning of QR codes. The OS used most to scan QR codes is Apple (68%), followed by Android (26%) and Blackberry (4%). The world’s largest QR code was 159 square meters and created by Audi to celebrate 100 years of car manufacturing (see video below).

Clever Uses:

Starbucks is using QR code technology to make it possible for you to pay for your daily caffeine hit with their mobile iPhone app. It works like this: punch in your Starbucks card info, verify some details, and the iPhone app becomes the gift card. A secure QR code is generated for the barista to scan when it comes time to pay for your coffee. Starbucks is now taking iPhone app payments in over 1,000 Target stores nationwide.

Another smart use of QR codes is on food packaging. Scanning the QR code on Tanimura & Antle’s lettuce packaging takes you to a website with recipe ideas and gives you a chance to enter a sweepstakes to win $250 each week. Other food manufacturers are using QR codes to provide information on the region the produce or food originated from, expiration dates and other nutritional information.

Cellar Key and the Lion Nathan Wine Group have teamed up to make it easier for consumers to shop for wine. These QR codes are featured on the neck tags of wine bottles, shelf displays and wine menus. Consumers can use their mobile devices to scan codes and pull up detailed information about a particular bottle of wine, watch videos about the wine in question, get video tours of wineries, discover food pairings, read up on harvest and tasting notes and check out reviews. It is a brilliant marketing tactic to help consumers engage with bottles of wine that may otherwise blend in with all the rest on the shelf.

Fashion designers and retailers like Ralph Lauren and H&M are using QR codes in magazine ads and billboards to provide apparel information, launch the designer’s website and allow users to purchase items right from their phone. H&M even uses semacodes on their actual clothing (semacodes, pictured right, are similar to QR codes but require a different reader).

While the idea of integrating scannable codes into clothing design is an interesting one, word is out on whether or not it’s a good idea to make yourself a scannable target. The QR dress to the left, designed by artist Marguerite Charmante, makes it possible to “scan” potential dates and look at their Facebook page or blog before you ask them out.

Perhaps one of the most practical uses of QR codes can be seen in the real estate and car industries where consumers demand instant information. Real estate agents can add QR codes to sign riders to give potential buyers a fast and convenient way to get additional information about the home while standing in front of property for sale. This makes the problem of running out of property flyers a thing of the past–QR codes will direct buyers to a detailed website with photos, video tours, comprehensive descriptions and property disclosures.

In Japan, QR codes are even being used on tombstones. A company called Ishinokoe makes specialized tombstones that incorporate a QR code that families of the deceased can scan to view photos of their loved one.

While this is just a sampling of what QR codes are being used for, there are many more opportunities for marketers to integrate QR codes into their marketing strategy.

More information: QR codes–what are they and how can you use them in your social media strategy.

Step-by-step instructions on how to download a QR reader and scan a code:

1. Download software–Go to the App store on your smartphone, search for and download a QR reader such as ScanLife or i-nigma on the iPhone (others listed to the right).

2. Scan–Launch the app and point smartphone camera at or hover over QR code, which will automatically read the code and redirect you to a website, video, other destination or contact information.

To create a QR code, visit Kaywa or Microsoft. To create a semacode, visit Semacode.

Posted in Food, Mobile Devices, QR Codes, Real Estate, Retail, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How can social media help you if you are selling a service, not a product?

It can be easy to figure out how to promote your company’s product on social media platforms, but what if you are not selling a tangible product but rather a service? Here are five good reasons for service-based businesses to be active on social media channels:

1. To create brand awareness.
If your company is fairly new and not everyone is familiar with your brand and what you offer, social media can be a great way to inform your audience about services that you provide. Angie’s List is one example:

2. As an online reputation management tool (building customer confidence).
When disaster strikes and you happen to be an insurance company like Travelers, you want to use your social media space to be proactive in anticipating customer needs and providing useful information. It shows that your company is on top of things and that customers can rest assured that you will provide services that they need.

3. To learn about new technologies and competitors.
In the example above, you have one insurance company’s take on dealing with a disaster, here’s what their competition, State Farm, is doing–clearly, one is handling it better than the other.

4. For recruiting.
If you specialize in providing a service, you need both service providers and customers, so social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to recruit service providers to work with you or work for you.

5. As a lead generation tool to intercept potential prospects.
Anytime someone “likes” your page on Facebook, your company and brand are in turn advertised to their friends and family and what better way to get referral business than to be recommended by one of your current customers.

Posted in Branding, Consumer Confidence, Facebook, Reputation Management, Social Media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Social media for small businesses: building a fan base and connecting with customers–one free cupcake at a time

In just a few years, Sprinkles Cupcakes has gone from being a relatively unknown bakery in Beverly Hills to major national buzz and 11 locations. Most of their success can be attributed to their smart use of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

For small businesses, it’s not as simple as just being present on social media networks, it’s about using social media to build a fan base and connecting with customers. Sprinkles does just that–not only did they build their Facebook fan base to 271,000+ strong, but they remain authentic and maintain a close relationship with their fans. Of course, giving away a free cupcake or two–or a dozen–doesn’t hurt either. With their secret word of the day and cupcake giveaways, they have generated big buzz for their bite-sized products. People may come for the free cupcakes, but they stay and become loyal advocates for the brand because the product and service are good.

Sprinkles has also built an amazing relationship with their customers–asking them for feedback on everything from flavors to suggestions for new store locations. They respond to almost every single fan post–unheard of one-on-one communication with their consumers that really personalizes their brand. How does all this benefit Sprinkles? By sharing exclusive offers with their loyalists and providing a platform to build a brand community, they bring exposure and word-of-mouth buzz to the company. On a side note, they now even have their own free iPhone app, which dishes out free cupcakes (in case you needed more) and allows users to give virtual cupcakes or locate a bakery.

Chicago-based Doughnut Vault is now attempting to pull off a similar strategy. The Doughnut Vault is only open for a few hours each morning and timely Tweets inform customers about doughnut flavors available, number of people in line and when they’ve sold out. It remains to be seen if they will be as successful as Sprinkles, but if the line around the block is any indication, they may be headed in the right direction.

Takeaway: Use social media platforms to build a loyal fan base and connect with them on an authentic and personalized level. Ask customers for feedback and respond to their suggestions. Loyal customers will generate word-of-mouth buzz for your business.

Posted in Advocates, Facebook, Food, Small Businesses, Social Media, Twitter | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment