What is Customer Engagement for Food Brands?

A search for #Food on Instagram yields 176 million results, this does not even include the popular internet term #FoodPorn or individual terms like #Nutella, #Sushi, etc. About 63% of all social media users aged between 16 – 32 have shared a food photograph on social media. There are many triggers behind why people share food pictures online, studying and understanding this cultural phenomenon will enable food and restaurant brands to distinguish between what real engagement is and what’s not.

Shouting vs. Cheering:
Brands, often wanting their customers’ attention do things out of desperation like increasing the frequency of posts and ads which may yield the opposite of desired effect of engagement.  A fan of a sport or a movie star cheers for their favourite team / movie.  Similarly if brands want ‘fans’ on their social media page to cheer for them, then they must do things that create reasons for the fans to give them a hoot.

On social media everything funnels down to content – images, videos, blogs, etc.  For food and restaurant brands visually appealing images are an imperative.

Brands can help their customers to create content on their behalf by providing creative wow experiences in every aspect of a customer’s dining journey. A dish served being the hero of this content creation exercise, there can be a host of opportunities created for a customer to ‘click & share’.
Ranging from coasters with quirky quotes, fancy cutleries, contemporary decor, and sometimes, even notoriously designed loo doors and posters with mild innuendo can be props for turning your dine-in customer into a brand evangelist. In short, don’t spam them, rather give them an experience that’s compulsive enough for them to talk about you.

Getting the journey right:
92% of a web journey begins with a search.  Brands must enable customers to discover information when they are at a planning stage of choosing their dining option. Google search now shows information beyond restaurant timings and location, such as a 360ยบ walk through, parking availability, etc., Facebook lets entire menu cards be displayed in a mobile friendly way.

All this can add to customers discovering a restaurant provided the brand starts with getting a basic set of checklist right. Social media can be a great customer touch point, book-a-table-with-a-tweet is far more easy and compelling for customers than to huddle with an app or phone call.  This being said, there’s no hard and fast rule for restaurants to be on all social media platforms; being completely active on a few platforms is better than a mere presence (or mostly dormant) on all platforms.

Going the distance:
International food brands have successfully taken their cue from social media complaints by their customers to turn around a PR disaster into a positive engagement experience. Consider this; a Dominos customer complained on social media that their pizza base tasted like cardboard, the brand took it seriously and want all the way back to ingredient formulation, altered their recipe; a complete video that told the story of how they take their customer feedback seriously was made.  And the result? Brand winning more love from its customers.
There are more examples of even smaller restaurants going the distance to provide a rewarding experience for their customers; restaurant brands must imbibe customer satisfaction at a kernel level.  Social media channels are just one avenue to march a batch of happy customers.  

Inclusive in Innovations:
What’s common between Lays chips and Willingdon Club in Mumbai?
Both have let their customers name a menu item / product.  Lays’ ‘Do us a Flavor’ is one of the most popular activities for gastronomic enthusiasts in the US.
A chilli-cheese-egg combination named as ‘Kejriwal’ at Willingdon Club is a tribute of sorts for one of their regular customers.
Beside this naming-the-food by customers, restaurants can be a lot more innovative if they make their customers ‘partners’ and social media is a great way to do that.

Innovation works best when it’s built on a foundation called consumer insight.  Social media on the other hand works best when the brand genuinely builds a dialogue with their fans and followers.  These dialogues, if analysed carefully hold a treasure trove of consumer insights on which brands can innovate.  Luckily people can connect deeper with a food brand than a furniture or a disinfectant brand!

In conclusion – it’s up to brands to leverage social media in their innovation quest.

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Views are personal.

I tweet at @sree_raman. Article originally appeared in AdAge India 

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Customer Engagement