By Charlie Pogacar

Social media has become an indispensable marketing tool for pizzeria owners. The platforms allow independent businesses to connect with customers, showcasing everything from limited-time promotions and new menu items to team members and regular customers. But as these platforms have become saturated with pizza makers putting out content—some better than others—it’s becoming more challenging to cut through the noise. Pizzeria operators must figure out how to differentiate themselves online in order to create more engagement and, hopefully, pizza sales.

Recently, PMQ interviewed a pair of pizzeria owners who have developed impressive followings on their social channels. The duo shares these eight tips to help other pizzeria operators get more out of one of the most cost-efficient marketing tools at their disposal: social media.

Meet the Experts

Janet Zapata is the owner of 550 Pizzeria in Laredo, Texas. She has developed an audience of 11,000-plus followers on Instagram and 12,800 more on Facebook. She worked tirelessly to build up those numbers and now has a part-time social media manager who helps her produce game plans for content. The pair meet in person once monthly to go over what has been working (and what hasn’t) and to develop a plan for the coming month.

Anthony Schifilliti is the owner of Nino’s Coal Fired Pizza in Brick, New Jersey. His engaging posts—which often include friends and family members and spotlight Schifilliti’s culinary skills—have grown his audience to 15,400 followers on Instagram. Schifilliti says he experimented with Facebook for a while but no longer regularly updates the page. He decided it wasn’t worth his time.

8 Tips to Grow Your Brand’s Following

1) Don’t Try to Be Something You’re Not. 

Both Zapata and Schifilliti wholeheartedly agree: It’s crucial that your social media presence is authentic. They also note that this is easier said than done. When the camera is on, there’s a tendency to “perform.” The problem is, people pick up on inauthenticity. “People want to see real stuff,” Zapata says. “I made a Reel [last Christmas] with Santa that was just funny. They want to laugh at things like that. Make it cute—I don’t think this is something that’s changed all that much. When I post something, I like to feel that it will connect with the viewer. And it should be short, because people get bored. They don’t want to watch a long video.”

Getty Images/Hazal Ak
2) Reel ’Em in With Videos. 

As both Zapata and Schifilliti will confirm, Instagram Reels tend to attract more engagement than static pictures, due in part to the platform’s algorithm and ongoing rivalry with TikTok. When Instagram first started, Reels—or any video at all—were not yet available on that platform. If you’ve been operating an Instagram account for more than a decade and still post mostly static pictures, you’re missing out on engagement.

3) Find Your Own Style. 

Just as you wouldn’t open a pizzeria and copy everything the shop next door does, you shouldn’t try to emulate someone else’s social media style. What works for one brand may not work for another. “If you’re not different, you’re not going to get any attention,” Schifilliti says. “You have to have something to grab their attention and get them engaged. Personally, I use a lot of music. I think it’s really important. If you watch the same clip without music, it’s like two different movies.” For his clips, Schifilliti also brings in his kids to make requests for menu items, then Dad heads to the kitchen to show how the dishes are made.

4) Tell Your Story. 

Schifilliti points out that most pizzerias have a story to tell. No matter how often you encourage servers and cashiers to pass that story along to the customer, it won’t always make it to them, he believes. “Like I said, we’re different,” Schifilliti says. “And we’re proud of that. For example, we make our own mozzarella sticks and bread them in-house. You can tell your servers to remember to say that all you want, but they get busy, and that’s one of the first things they stop doing. But I get people all the time who watch our social media and say, ‘Wow, they use San Marzano tomatoes, their wings are cooked in the oven with olive oil, the pasta’s made with béchamel.’ That’s what’s amazing about social media. You can get the real message straight from the owner.”

“When I post something, I like to feel that it will connect with the viewer. And it should be short, because people get bored. They don’t want to watch a long video.”

Janet Zapata, 550 Pizzeria

One day, Zapata says, she’d love to use social media to show customers what her day-to-day life is like and how she pours her heart and soul into the business. “People always ask me, ‘So what do you do all day?’ When people don’t see me here, they think I’m never here,” she notes. “Well, I may be in the kitchen, or out at the schools, or at community events. I’m always doing something to try and drive business in the door.”

A slick, funny Cops-style video garnered more than 15,200 views and nearly 600 likes for 550 Pizzeria in January. Screenshot from 550 pizzeria/instagram
5) Put Your Imagination to Work. 

Think of your social media as if it were a menu. You wouldn’t just stick with the same menu for 20 years and expect people to keep coming back. The same is true of a social media presence. Don’t be afraid to try new things and use your imagination. “I think you should never be content with your social media,” Zapata says. “You always have to look out for whatever the new thing is.” Zapata, for example, posted a Reel in the style of the reality TV show Cops that delivered laughs and 15,000-plus views (see sidebar on page 46), while another Reel showcased the unique talents of a hungry mime placing a pizza order exclusively with gestures.

6) Don’t Write Too Much. 

Another reason you may want to consider moving from only static pictures to more Reels, videos or Instagram Stories? Many people don’t like to read. Zapata noted that whenever she writes a long caption, it seems to attract less engagement. “You can say, ‘Hey, we’re closing at 3 p.m. Monday,’ and everybody shows up then,” she says. “You can say, ‘Hey, we are sold out of this,’ and people will come in and ask if you’re really sold out. It’s all in the picture, as people like to say.” 

7) Post Consistently. 

There are pizzerias out there that haven’t posted on their social channels in months. By abstaining, they’re missing out on free advertising to everyone in their area who owns a smartphone. They’re also losing ground to the competition. “I try to post once a day,” Schifilliti says. “And I try to mix it up: something personal, something with family, then something with cooking.” Social media posts don’t consume all that much time for Schifilliti or Zapata. Schifilliti estimates that some posts take him less than two minutes to film and upload. There are entire weeks that go by—even with daily posts—in which he spends no more than an hour on social media, he estimates, yet Nino’s still reaps the rewards.

8) Boost With Purpose. 

Every social media platform offers the ability to pay to boost posts and reach more people. Zapata and Schifilliti occasionally use this feature. The key for both of them, however, is to boost only the type of post that really needs more eyeballs. For example, Zapata recently ran an annual contest where social media users could win free pizza for a year if they followed 550 Pizzeria’s account and commented on a post. Boosting that post meant more people entered to win and started following her. Similarly, Schifilliti recently opened a second location. To drive engagement for the grand opening, he boosted a post about it. “I believe in paying to boost posts every once in a while,” he says, noting that he also likes to give something away—maybe a free slice—if a customer can prove they follow one of his accounts.

But Schifilliti does have a warning, of sorts, for others. “Never buy followers!” he says. “It’s a waste of money, and it’s just not the right way to grow your business.”   

Charlie Pogacar is PMQ’s senior editor.

Marketing, Technology