Billy Manzo’s 6 Rules for Social Media Success

  • Do you want to be famous on social media, or do you want to run a successful pizzeria? They’re not one and the same.
  •  Social media should be about connections and community, not a mirror, says pizza guru Billy Manzo.

Related: 7 tips for marketing your pizzeria on YouTube

By Billy Manzo, Jr.

OK, we’re going to conduct a little experiment. I want you to take out your phone and open your Instagram or Facebook app. What do you see when you scroll through your profile? Are there photos of you smiling while holding a pizza? Photos of you smiling and shaking a customer’s hand? Photos of you smiling while kneading some dough? Videos of you kneading some dough?

I’ll bet there are. I’ll bet there are hundreds of them—if not thousands. And I get it. Social media has become an integral part of our business, allowing us to engage with our customers outside of our restaurants, and we have to put ourselves out there because our customers are out there. And, unlike advertising, we get to do all of this engaging for free. 

But something weird is going on. It used to be that social media was just one facet of a business. Now it’s become the focus. Pizzeria operators have gone Hollywood! Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up! Every day, I see photos and videos of pizza operators posing Vanna White-style: This is what I’ve done, this is where I’ve gone, this is who I know. That’s not what social media—or running a business—is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about connection. About community. Not a mirror.

Ask yourself: Do I want to be famous, or do I want to run a successful business? Contrary to popular belief, they are not one and the same.

What people have forgotten is that success is not thousands of likes on an Instagram post. Nor is it getting to speak at a trade show. It’s when a person in your community comes up to you and says, “You know, we had a party last night at our house. And we had a ball. Your pizza was excellent. And we won’t forget that night.” That’s the Super Bowl of what we do. We aren’t just creating a business. We’re creating memories.

You wouldn’t realize that from scrolling through some social media feeds. Ask yourself: Do I want to be famous, or do I want to run a successful business? Contrary to popular belief, they are not one and the same. That’s why I’ve put together Billy Manzo’s 6 Social Media Rules for Success. (Pay attention. There will be a quiz later.)

Rule No. 1: Post only content you’re genuinely comfortable with.

Don’t be something you’re not. Use your phone to capture what you’re good at—not what you see other people doing. If you’re not good at making demonstration videos, don’t make demonstration videos. I’ve seen people who don’t know the foundation of their business attempt to make five different styles of pizza in a video when they haven’t even conquered one basic style. Know your limitations. Sure, some people tell me I make Instagram videos look easy. But I’m 100% confident in the accuracy of my content. That’s why I make it look easy. If you’re not good at something, don’t post a video about it. Yes, some people are better at Instagram Stories, Reels and recipes than you are. Who cares? Maybe your pizza looks better. Maybe your menu looks better. Maybe your location is better. Maybe you do charitable things for your community. Focus on your strengths, not somebody else’s.

Related: This NYC eatery is the most Instagrammed pizzeria in the U.S.

Rule No. 2: Talk to your community only.

We all know that social media has a global reach, and that’s amazing! But—and I hate to break it to you—someone living in Fiji probably isn’t going to visit your pizzeria anytime soon. So why are you trying so hard to get him to like your post? Instead of performing for people who are not your customers, focus on those who are.

I’ve seen people attempt to make five different styles of pizza in a video when they haven’t even conquered one basic style. Know your limitations.

Rule No. 3: Enough with the bragging already.

Every time you donate a pizza to a local children’s hospital, you don’t have to take a picture of the moment and throw it up on social media. I’m not saying you can’t promote your good works, but I see so many operators piggybacking on the names of nonprofit organizations to boost their visibility. Donate because you want to—because it feeds your soul, not for your social media feeds. Otherwise, get up in the morning, go to work, and do a great job. Leave the bragging to your mother.

Rule No. 4: Be yourself.

Social media has become like high school. We want to be sure we’re wearing the right clothes, associated with the right organizations and that our hair is just so. It’s ridiculous. This isn’t a photo session. Think about the original intent of social media: to connect, to engage with one another in a genuine way, not to filter photos or strike a pose that hides your beer belly. People are craving authenticity. Are your eyes bloodshot from staying up late to cater a party? Show that to your customers! That’s real.

Rule No. 5: If you get the urge to post more than once a day, find a hobby.

Businesses are posting two, three, four or more times—a day! Hi, we’re stretching the dough. Hi, we’ve got the oven on. Hi, we’re about to take the pizza out of the oven. Drum roll, please! It’s nauseating. I know they think more is more, but it’s not—studies have shown a drop in engagement if you’re posting that much. And just because you’re showing a hundred pictures of you doing something doesn’t mean you’re good at it. As a matter of fact, odds are that you suck at it.

Rule No. 6: Post only meaningful content that 1) offers value or educates and 2) separates you from the guy down the block.

Want to add a photo of a pizza on your Instagram account? Or a pic of you wearing a chef’s coat and holding a pizza? Um, virtually every pizza operator does that. (And, by the way, you’re not a chef until your staff calls you a chef, not because you’re wearing an apron.) What else have you got? There’s gotta be something better going on in your business. Are you running a special on chicken Parm this Thursday? How about a video of you sprinkling the cheese onto a dish with a reminder to your customers that the Parm is half off that day? Or an image of a 30%-off coupon (or cou-Parm) that your customers can show you with their phone when they pick up their order? That’s meaningful content that just might bring business through the door.

My father used to say to me, “Always watch the quiet one in the room.” Why? Because the quietest one is usually the smartest one. I’d love to know what he would have thought of social media—a make-believe place where everyone is screaming to get noticed. He probably would say that, instead of posting so many photos and videos, you should turn it down a notch and concentrate on content you’re comfortable with and that brings value—meat and potatoes—to the table. Then, focus all that free time offline instead. Give a prospective client a free pizza. Let ’em taste your product. Work with local charities to create events. Build a relationship. Shake a hand. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it’s not worth all your time and attention.  

Billy Manzo Jr. is a veteran restaurant operator and the owner/chef of Federal Hill Pizza in Warren, Rhode Island.