The social club

If your pizzeria still hasn’t embraced social media, you might reconsider for 2012. Time-tested brands and small businesses alike have learned that, with consistent and thoughtful approaches to social media, marketers can reach consumers and build awareness quickly and effectively through websites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

Successful case studies abound. In 2011, admittedly late to social marketing, the 53-year-old, Homewood, Illinois-based chain Aurelio’s Pizza (aureliospizza.com), which has 44 stores in six states, managed to pull together 10,000 Facebook fans—more than half of them in the first three months of their social media program. “It caught on like wildfire,” says John Romans, Aurelio’s social media manager. “We had the strength of our brand helping us build awareness so rapidly.”

According to Kirk Mauriello, Aurelio’s director of franchising, the chain promoted store openings in 2011 exclusively with social media. “Our Marietta, Georgia, franchisee created a Facebook page in accordance with the corporate page,” Mauriello says. “What was so interesting was that, in the first week, we only opened up the restaurant to our Facebook followers, and this one restaurant that seats 96 people served more than 2,000 people. It was unreal.”

Other chains have found comparable results by hiring outside agencies to manage their social media. Last year, Boston-based chain Sal’s Pizza (sals-pizza.com) increased walk-in traffic and boosted its Facebook following from 800 to 3,700 people in just a few months with an incentive campaign—which also included Facebook advertising bought with franchisee royalties—that gave away pizza for a year to one Facebook follower for every 800 fans. “I’m a one-person department so I couldn’t have been happier to have an agency,” says Jayne Minigell, Sal’s director of marketing. “We’ve discovered that social media is about more than just putting out a post. It’s about creating a dialogue with your customers. We’re a small brand so, for us, it’s a big deal.”

For 2012, Sal’s is redesigning its loyalty plan to use social network Foursquare in another incentive-based plan for their New England stores. Customers who “check in” at a number of Sal’s locations could receive a gift. “People are checking in on Foursquare anyway,” Minigell says. “We’re definitely interested in bring our marketing efforts to that group.”

Statistics for Thought

Marketing professionals have found success with several major social media sites, from established players like Facebook and Twitter to the up-and-coming Google+. A review of industry statistics proves that these sites have a vast reach, allowing marketers to get their message out to millions of potential customers at virtually no cost and with a minimum of labor. The big three include:

Facebook—According to online B2B magazine Social Media Examiner, there are now more than 800 million active Facebook users worldwide with 25% of those active users added in 2011. In addition, the average Facebook user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 pages, events and groups. According to HubSpot.com, there are more than 3.5 billion pieces of information (such as links, news, blogs and photos) shared every week on Facebook. Mashable.com reports that 56% of consumers say they are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend after “liking” it on Facebook.

Twitter—According to eMarketer.com, there will be nearly 21 million Twitter users in the United States by the end of 2012. Currently, there are more than 100 million worldwide. Fortune magazine reports that 40% of Twitter users don’t typically tweet; instead, they use Twitter to follow friends, public figures and businesses, and 55% of those users do so with a mobile device. Retweeting is an effective way to build followers, and a recent survey by Ogden, Utah-based marketing firm WhiteFireSEO found that 92% of Twitter users prefer to retweet interesting content; 84% of them retweet humor, 66% retweet friends, 32% retweet incentive-based messages and 21% retweet celebrity information.

Google+— Similar in concept to Facebook, Google+ may be an up-and-comer, but business statistics remain scarce for the social network made public in June 2011. However, the latest figures from Google show there are currently more than 2.3 million U.S. users with 31 million worldwide.

Foursquare—This location-based social networking site targets users of mobile devices such as smartphones. Users “check in” at various venues—from boutique shops to restaurants and bars—via mobile websites, text messaging or a device-specific application. Each check-in nets points and sometimes “badges” for the user. As of June 2011, Foursquare reported that it had 10 million registered users, about half of them in the U.S.

Pinterest—Listed on Time magazine’s “50 Best Websites of 2011” list, Pinterest is one of the Internet’s fastest-growing social networking sites and boasts a largely female user base. Pinterest allows users to create and manage a themed virtual pinboard that highlights subjects of personal interest ranging from recipes and clothing to high-tech gadgets and “favorite places and spaces,” including restaurants, bars and vacation spots. According to comScore, an Internet marketing research and data tracking firm, Pinterest currently has 11.7 million unique users.

People Helping People

No matter what social networks you favor, influence isn’t strictly a numbers game—you also must cultivate a network of high-quality followers. Some experts say you should think of social marketing as the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth: The right followers can drive your message for you.

“The truth about social media is that a lot of people like to throw their thoughts out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re reading anything,” says Ben Smith, a Los Angeles-based social media consultant and former YouTube executive. “Some businesses don’t think about needing to know who is following them and who needs to be following them. Once you identify a market, you can figure out where they are and get near them. If I’m a gluten-free pizzeria and there is gluten content on the Web, I need to figure out how to get my brand as close to that content as possible. That means advertising, that means commenting on articles, that means sharing that content on my network page.”

However, experts recommend patience when launching a social media campaign. “Your business may not change overnight, but it will be the first crucial step to get on other people's radar screens,” says Maciej Fita, founder of Boston search engine optimization firm Brandigity. “With other important efforts like blog post writing, you should always consider targeting certain keywords as you are writing posts. Once you identify which keywords are right for your business, the goal is to put together social content surrounding those keywords and, over time, inbound traffic will be generated.”

Consistency and Measurability

One of the most common errors operators make with social media is a lack of consistency. Experts recommend setting a regular time for posts and giving the job to a reliable—and preferably experienced—person. “When it comes to strategy and execution, you ideally give that responsibility to someone with web marketing experience,” says Fita. “In some cases, you might have a small business that can't afford to either outsource or hire a new social media marketing employee, so you might have to see (which person) at the company likes to engage online in their personal time. You might just find that there is a social media nut lurking around your company that would love to help grow the business in that way and you didn't even know it.”

Finally, if you’re taking your social media efforts seriously, everything must be measurable. Facebook’s analytics provide weekly insight into your business page performance. However, there are social media dashboards out there that can help you save time by posting to multiple social networks at once, scheduling posts around the clock and measuring click-through rates on individual messages. HootSuite.com is a commonly used service with free analytics for users.

Ultimately, operators will simply need to dive in and start posting and tweeting. Over time, they may make mistakes, but they’ll also learn from trial-and-error and begin to see progress as they build their network of friends and followers. “When you can see what works for your company, then you can grow and build on that,” Smith says.

HED: Tweet What?

Twitter is fast and has its own language. If you find yourself confused when it comes to social terms and symbols, use this Twitter glossary to play catch up.

Tweet: A “tweet” is a message or update that you post to tell people what you’re doing or thinking or to promote upcoming specials, a new menu item and other newsworthy events. Many users say they are “tweeting.”

Following: When you “follow” someone on Twitter, you subscribe to that person’s tweets. That person’s tweets will show up in your timeline as they’re posted. Other users who follow you (your “followers”) will be able to view your tweets.

Timeline: This is a running list of tweets posted by the users you follow. The most recent tweets appear at the top, and it’s constantly updated.

@username: By putting the @ symbol before someone’s username in a tweet, you can direct your post to that user’s attention. This is also called a “mention” or, if it’s in response to a tweet directed at you, it’s known as a “reply.”

Retweet (RT): Retweeting is when you share an interesting tweet from another user with your followers. Click the “Retweet” button under the original tweet, and it will instantly be tweeted by you. When followers retweet your posts, consider it a tip of the hat to your social media efforts.

Direct Message (DM): Found under the Messages tab at the top of your homepage, these private messages can only be sent between users who are following each other. You can send a follower a brief email using the Message tab, or you can post the message as a tweet on your home page with the letter d and the recipient’s user name (d username).

Hashtag (#): Since you can’t categorize Twitter messages, the hashtag (# followed by a topic, such as “Pizza Delivery”) was created. This approach allows you to search for hashtags, and any tweet related to that topic will show up, whether you follow the user who posted it or not.

Shortened URLs: Because Twitter limits all tweets to 140 characters, link shrinkers come in handy when you want to post a tweet that includes a lengthy URL. A number of website tools will shorten your URLs for Tweets. TinyUrl.com and Goo.gl are the most common and easy to use.

Trending Topics: These are the10 most searched terms on Twitter at any given time. You can find the list under the Trends tab on your home page. Some people use these terms as a guide for posting new info so more people will notice and follow them.

Compiled by Liz Barrett.

HED: Facebook 101

Your Facebook page should be courteous, interesting and professional. In order to increase “likes” and inspire loyalty, follow these simple do's and don’ts:

Do:
Answer questions and follow up with comments left on your page as soon as possible.

Send online birthday greetings when you see alerts.

Post comments or news at least once per day—three or four times is better.

Create photo albums related to your restaurant, such as new menu items or highlights from recent fundraisers.

Offer incentives to visit your page, such as a weekly contest where one customer can receive a free pizza for answering a trivia question or posting a picture of himself in your shop.

Post greetings and comments on pages of clients, manufacturers and experts.

Join groups related to the pizza business and your community.

Share useful articles to establish credibility.

Be social!

Don’t:

Post derogatory comments toward or about other pizzerias or competing businesses.

Use the page just to advertise your shop—try to be three parts fun, one part business.

Post unprofessional photos of yourself or employees.

Update constantly. Limit your posts to three or four a day. Focus on quality, not quantity.