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Building brand ambassadors

Cultivating positive word-of-mouth doesn’t have to mean doling out freebies.
social media influencers

In the age of the all-important customer review, so much attention has been paid to how to (and how not to) handle a negative comment. But what about the positive ones? Some operators have found that how they respond to glowing compliments can have significant benefits to the brand. Here, they weigh in on where to find brand evangelists and how to encourage and engage them.

Where to find them

  • Look at fundraising participants. “A real grassroots way is a lot of our restaurants are doing fundraisers with local schools and nonprofits,” says Jodi Boyce, VP of marketing for Teriyaki Madness, a fast casual with 38 locations. “Those are some of the people that are going to turn into some of our best advocates for the brand.”
  • Cull review sites. Yelp isn’t dead. According to Technomic’s Generational Consumer Trend Report, 24% of millennials interact with restaurants via Yelp, up from 16% in 2014. So when monitoring reviews on Google, OpenTable and Yelp and responding to negative comments, zero in on users who are organically talking about the restaurant in a positive way, says Josh Rutherford, owner of Four Star Restaurant Group, which operates 10 restaurants in Chicago, including Smoke Daddy and Remington’s.
  • Look beyond Facebook and Twitter. “[Instagram is] becoming a strong platform for word-of-mouth and is our fastest-growing [social media] channel,” says Suzanne Perry, owner of Tampa, Fla.-based Datz Restaurant Group. “It’s not traditionally seen as a review platform, but it really is. It’s mostly comments from people who are enjoying the items.” Perry sees younger diners—think 15 years and below—using Musical.ly, a video community, in the same way.

Then what?

  • Give a shoutout. While public acknowledgment may seem obvious, it shouldn’t be underestimated. Rutherford’s team picks images from Instagram posts, creates a photo collage and tags each user when posting it to the restaurant’s feed. “We’ll try and show them that we are actually looking.” It’s a win-win, as some social media users may gain a few new followers from the mention. “Even for us, if they’re getting more followers and they’re following us, then there’s a better chance for us [to be seen],” Rutherford says.
  • Create exclusive experiences. “Free stuff always works, but influencers are constantly getting inundated, so you really have to think outside the box now,” says Aarti Mehta, senior marketing manager of The Taco Truck in Hoboken, N.J. “We host exclusive events, provide sneak peeks to new menu items and make sure the staff knows who [influencers] are when they come.” At press time, Perry was in the process of organizing a trip for bloggers and social media fans to visit a berry purveyors’ farms to meet its staff and pick strawberries. “We do not pay them to write; we instead give them something to write about,” she says.
  • Light it up. Be on the lookout for what might make it easier for fans to share their experience. “We may invite a top Instagrammer in to enjoy a new cocktail on its first live day,” Perry says. “Sometimes we make sure to provide good lighting and surfaces or backgrounds to shoot with.” 



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