All of the social media out there is enough to make your head spin, and maintaining our web, Facebook and MySpace pages is a full-time job. What's the best way to keep our name out there, without being a slave to our screen OR going broke?
– Russell Kandalaft, Owner, Freestones City Grill, New Bedford, MA
By being concerned about how to keep up with social media, you are ahead of the game. I talk to too many restaurateurs who, like you, have trouble keeping up with the demands of the web but think they can just opt out of that world. Since people will post your menus, hours of operation, reviews, and other information about your restaurant with or without your knowledge, it pays to be on top of it so you can have some input, if not control, over the information about your restaurant on the web.
You are right that it is easy to become swamped. There are so many review sites, directories, networks and groups that you can lose sight of the more pressing aspects of running your operation. Responding to each review or post is indeed a full-time job, but is probably not necessary. The first decision you need to make is how social media fits into your overall marketing plan. Is it something to monitor, watching out for bad reviews and correcting misinformation; or is it a potential vehicle for running promotions, building guest loyalty, and/or reaching new markets? That is, is it a cost center or an investment? While even smaller restaurant groups are bringing on marketing employees dedicated to social media, it needs to be part of the concept’s marketing strategy.
If you don’t want to make a significant investment, Dania Rajendra, a restaurant PR consultant who handles the social media program for many of her clients recommends setting aside one day per week to post and respond. “The key is to keep it regular, so things don't seem stale.” If that schedule is too demanding in light of your other responsibilities (which would be very understandable), consider engaging a tech-savvy college student majoring in hospitality management or communications as a social media intern. Have your intern monitor the web, post frequently (with your approval), or try various promotions. You may be able to snag a talented intern in exchange for some free food and a modest stipend.
If the homemade approach to handling social media is not for you, engage a PR firm to do the work for you—a contract with a good firm may cost considerably less than a hire.