Follow these five expert tips to get people talking about-;and using-;your Facebook and Twitter pages.

With more pizzerias using social media platforms to increase their visibility and gain an edge over competitors, getting ahead in the game isn’t just smart—it’s essential. But with each social media site offering its own array of bells and whistles, navigating the sites and learning how to use them to your advantage can leave operators feeling dizzy. Here are a few tips on how you can put your pizzeria on the online map and get the most out of your social media marketing experience.

1) Tweet About Local Sports. When using social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, it is important to understand your local audience and their interests. One way to do this is by showing support for your community every chance you get. Twitter, for example, can offer a venue for building a relationship with local high school and college sports fans—and nowadays, that’s almost everybody in town, male and female alike. Is your pizzeria screening the college football game? Consider tweeting your support for the team beforehand and live-tweeting updates on the game during the event. This strategy works equally well for a local high school game—send an employee to every home game to tweet score updates and brag about star players’ performances. You can utilize hashtags—e.g., #gotigers—to target those fans keeping up with the game and, at the same time, inform them of daily drink and food specials at your pizzeria.

2) Celebrate Your Customers. Remember the days of old when restaurants would tack pictures of their clientele to bulletin boards and proudly display customers’ smiling faces around the restaurant? Instead of putting up hard copies on the walls, you can create a virtual bulletin board through Pinterest or post a Facebook photo album celebrating your “Customers of the Week.” It may be the young professionals with a newborn baby or the cute pooch hanging out on your dog-friendly porch. Whoever it is, take a picture and pin it on Pinterest, post it to Facebook or share it with your Instagram followers. Adding your company’s logo to each picture can also be a cost-effective way of advertising. When proud parents download an image of their son’s Little League team eating pizza in your restaurant after the big game, they’re sure to print it out and hang it on their fridge where friends and family members can see it. (Keep in mind that you should always get the customer’s permission before posting their photos online. This is especially true when it comes to children’s photos. Never post a child’s photo without first getting a parent’s permission, preferably in writing.)

3) Incentivize Check-Ins. With sites like Foursquare and Yelp, pizzeria operators can treat customers who check in online with special offers. Whether searching for a new restaurant in the city where they live or traveling with their families on summer vacation, potential customers will often perform searches for nearby restaurants through the mobile apps. By offering special deals online, you can attract these new customers while they are using their smart phones on the go. On Foursquare, for example, restaurants with special offers are designated by colored flags that differentiate them from other locations. Yelp even allows users to filter their search options to show locations that have special check-in offers, as well as coupons that can be purchased through the site and redeemed at the location. Entice potential customers with a free or discounted appetizer for checking in. Over time, this strategy will bring these new guests through your door and spread awareness of your pizzeria online.

4) Continue the Conversation. The leading social media sites offer savvy pizzeria operators the ability to build a rapport with customers, get their feedback and engage in an ongoing conversation. Facebook, Google Plus, Yelp, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram serve as forums where customers can express their approval of your operation’s food and service, offer suggestions for improvement (yes, this may include some harsh criticism as well), ask you questions, and get to know your pizzeria through peers’ reviews. But it’s not enough to merely give your guests the opportunity to offer feedback. According to Edison Research, 42% of those who use social media for customer service expect a response within an hour. But 56% of customer tweets to companies are never acknowledged, according to Mediabistro.com’s AllTwitter site.

Being responsive to customers through social media outlets can help to increase your pizzeria’s reputation for quality customer service. By continuing the conversation online, you’re building your operation’s credibility with your guests and demonstrating a genuine interest in their opinions—after all, everyone wants to feel that their viewpoints matter. Soulshine Pizza Factory (soulshinepizza.com) in Nashville, Tennessee has a Twitter page on which company representatives perform a customer service follow-up with users who mention the restaurant in a tweet or check-in. But remember, these are social forums, not polling centers. Adopt a laid-back tone. Thank your customers for taking the time to check in online, and ask them how they liked your pizza. Don’t be afraid to be witty and playful or to let your business’s personality shine through.

5) Do Your Research. Are more of your customers using Twitter or Pinterest? How many people are using Foursquare vs. Yelp near your pizzeria’s location? Taking the time to ask questions beforehand can prevent Tweetafacebookpintrosis, a treatable syndrome brought on by over-exposure to social media. (Symptoms may include reduced attention span, carpal tunnel syndrome and perpetual duck-face!)

In all seriousness, managing a social media platform can take a lot of time and energy. Determining in advance where your efforts will make the most impact and concentrating on one or two sites can increase your chances for turning online connections into real customers. Social media monitoring sites like Google Analytics, Social Flow and HootSuite can help you keep track of how social media is affecting your business so that you can optimize your social media strategy. And remember, if you’re too busy to handle this component of your marketing strategy yourself, you can always hire a social media manager. Look for someone with a strong knowledge of marketing as well as plenty of experience with various social media platforms. This doesn’t need to be a highly paid, fulltime position—it’s perfect for a local college student or current part-time employee looking to make some extra cash on the side. You don’t have to do everything yourself! 

Sarah Carollo is a freelance writer and PMQ’s former social media director.