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Technology

Movement in mobile

If you took a United or Delta flight to the 2012 Restaurant Leadership Conference in March in Scottsdale, Arizona, you had the option to forego a printed boarding pass, using a QR code sent to your smartphone instead. In a world where 80 percent of the population owns a mobile device (and only 47 percent own a toothbrush), cellphones and tablets are replacing pagers, wallets, credit cards and even keys.  Here’s a round-up of mobile solutions from the floor of RLC to keep an eye on.

SMS/Text messaging

The most basic level of phone interaction is text messaging, which has the bonus of not being limited to smartphones. Every day 4.1 billion text messages go out, and anybody with a cellular phone and a messaging plan (and who doesn’t have one these days?) can send and receive text messages. The simple immediacy of a text-based promotion has its perks, too. Using a system like Frextr, your guests opt-in to your list by sending a text message, then you can turn around and text them back with offers and event notifications.  

Another plus--you’re not tied to immediate messaging. Scheduling software for texting systems allows you to set up timed campaigns that send out messages weeks and months into the future, or 20 minutes from now. You can also review reports for which messages were opened, redeemed and even forwarded on to friends, and tailor future messages according to the success of similar campaigns.

Another usage of text messaging is loyalty programs. The Paytronix “Text to Check In” system allows guests to send a text message to join your loyalty program and fill out the forms on their own. Once in the system, they can send a text message directly to the POS, letting you know they’re in the restaurant. Servers then link the guest’s transaction information with their loyalty account at the register.

Instead of spending time and money on data entry, the guests take care of it on their own, and their phone has replaced the membership card.  

Site-specific data

If you’ve ever spent time trying to figure out which of your stores need new fryers, which ones have drive-throughs, or trying to remember which ones have removable letter boards versus LED signs, you understand the need for up-to-date site audits. Keeping managers and franchisees accountable for maintaining those records can be an even bigger challenge.

GSP has created a mobile app to enhance its site survey management system, allowing auditors to automatically geo-locate to the site they are visiting, check-in and upload photos and notes directly into that store’s profile.

The app’s functionality also allows you to tap on neighboring sites from a map, compare notes, make profile changes and check when the last audit was performed.

Social Media

Engaging customers via social media can be as simple as asking, “What’s your favorite coffee flavor?” Managing that engagement, especially across multiple platforms and locations, can be a nightmare. As organizations find new and increasingly sophisticated ways to use social media, they are finding that they need a way to manage their efforts and measure the outcomes.  

Enter social media management systems (SMMSs), which enable organizations to do things like publish on multiple social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest; schedule and stage posts; apply rights management schemes; aggregate feedback; measure effectiveness across channels and report results in ways that are meaningful to specific groups and locations.

There are many SMMS companies to choose from. Some offer stand-alone products; others are part of bigger customer relationship management and content management systems.

Expion, one of the larger systems, also allows owner/operators to manage their local social media presence across platforms and locations. The new mobile-alert system sends a message to their phone anytime there's an action requiring their attention. The alert sends them directly to the post, whether it's a photo upload needing approval, or a comment with questionable language.

Managing social media presence is becoming more critical as the mobile advertising opportunities increase. Mobile advertising revenue reached a new high of $1.6 billion last year, according to data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Facebook's new mobile advertising opportunities were the talk of every tech vendor at RLC.

Pushing into the mobile advertising market, Facebook is challenging Google, which is the leading seller of ad space on mobile devices. Now, brands that people “like” can send messages and ads to those users’ mobile news feeds. If the user then makes a comment on one of the items or “likes” it, the person’s friends get those promotions on their own phones and tablets as well.

  • Popular news updates with high levels of engagement can be marked as "Sponsored Stories” that appear on Facebook’s website and mobile apps. Rather than hitting the viewer over the head with outright advertising, these stories have a similar status to updates from friends and family members.
  • "Offers" are another option now available, and a free one at that. Post an offer on your page and allow your followers to claim it. You can limit the number of claims, and track how many people claim, like, share, comment and bring each offer into your business.

Critics are calling the changes "invasive. Good or bad, these changes put a lot of pressure on brands to provide engaging, valuable content, or risk being "un-liked." You'll need to be nimble and mindful of your audience and messages now more than ever.

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