Today digital media influences so much of our lives. We make purchasing decisions based on reviews we read online; we track our activities using apps and online tools to measure improvement and meet goals; and we have become our own publishers. We’re more social than ever – thanks to tools like Twitter and Facebook, we’re interacting meaningfully with people all over the globe. These online behaviours are profoundly changing the world we live in. As we’ve discussed throughout this digital literacy series, this has real implications for businesses in countless industries, including the hospitality industry.
Thanks to Instagram, foursquare and review sites like Yelp, dining out has become an online smorgasbord. We can instantly share photos of our food, act as food critics and give our friends a real-time play-by-play of where we choose to dine. All these things impact how restaurants need to approach such things as marketing and customer service.
For today’s post, I spoke to Tony Johanson (@tnjohan), marketing manager for Calgary’s famous (and sometimes infamous) Melrose Café & Bar (@Melroseredmile). The team at Melrose sits at the cutting-edge of leveraging social media for the hospitality industry and I asked Tony for a case study on exactly how they’re using digital media and what results they’re experiencing so far.
Why did Melrose decide to start using digital media?
We started using digital media for two reasons: firstly, to stand out from a crowded hospitality market (specifically 17th Ave.) and secondly, to re-tell our brand story and re-introduce to the Calgary community the true identity of Melrose Café & Bar.
To start with, we performed an in-depth SWOT analysis. From this analysis we found that after the summer of 2004 and the Calgary Flames Stanley Cup run, (which brought national attention to Melrose and the Red Mile), the public had a perception of us that was less than ideal. After reviewing the data, we were a little taken aback by the negative sentiment. Being that for over 20 years, Melrose has been a family-owned and operated business, has maintained a focus on its own people and has always strived to help out the local community, this negative perception did not reflect who we are. Therefore, we researched and found a medium that allowed us to show that side of the Melrose story.
How does Melrose use digital media?
Currently we use a lot of social media tools, for both customer service and relationship building. On the customer service side, social media is a great tool because it allows the guests, who may not tell us in person that we made a mistake, to post an honest review in their social spaces. The fact that we can then search for these types of reviews allows us the opportunity to win those valued guests back and make a wrong, a right. That’s kind of like our defense.
When we want to go on the offense we will reach out to people and try to “wow” them. One tactic we have developed is the use of a puppet character called “Chef Kookathama”. He delivers personalized messages to our fans and followers, primarily sending out birthday wishes. Again this is a feel good message designed to make someone smile.
We do our best to keep our social channels running as close to our business hours as possible (10 a.m. – 2 a.m.), and speed of response is very important to us. We work hard to keep it real-time if we can. And any mention, good or bad, will get a response. We run our social spaces with a team of four. And with platforms like Twitter that require constant attention we take shifts.
Additionally, we are active on YouTube, Tout, Socialcam and more recently Pinterest. We house a blog on our main website and we use the other platforms to link back to that content. We always try to make it interesting and of value so we can pull customers back into us. We also make sure we are active on Yelp, Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor – being that they are online review sites, which can have a positive or negative impact on our business.
To help us manage all these platforms we have been developing a new content strategy and are looking at ways to repurpose our future content in meaningful ways. We are also developing more digital strategies for CRM, SEO and Pay-Per-Click ads, which are a relatively new focus for us being an independent restaurant/bar.
What results has Melrose seen since the introduction of a digital media strategy?
The results have been pretty positive so far. When we began I would say there was a fair amount of negative sentiment that could be found on the Web regarding Melrose and our clientele. Our Yelp score was sitting at a one star and we had virtually no community or brand ambassadors. Fast forward to today and we have a strong community with many brand ambassadors who will go out of their way to tell people about us – about how we have changed and that we’re very community focused. Our Yelp score is now sitting at a 3.5 star rating and we’re pretty proud of that too.
We have also found a new revenue stream in booking events for various Meetup groups. When we began supporting the local social media community, more and more people began to take notice of our space and our ability to host various events and meetings. It has been a very welcomed byproduct of our efforts.
In your opinion and experience, how has digital media changed the hospitality industry? What does the future look like?
Technology has and will continue to change the industry and we are just starting to see that. Most places are using old POS unit software in an industry that has not seen much change in the last 10 -15 years. I think a disruption is currently happening and we will see new pay systems that will be integrated into social and digital channels making things that much more connected.
I personally feel that we are just starting to see the change happen. The hospitality industry is still sort of stuck in the whole push marketing mentality. But, there are a few bright spots out there. There are groups doing a really good job of connecting and fostering online and real world relationships with their followers and clientele. As more and more businesses begin to understand that it’s about interaction and how we as the industry can provide for or fill the needs of our clientele, I think you’re going to see a lot of very unique and fun things happening. I have always believed that if ever there was an industry that was meant to be social, it’s the hospitality industry.
Now with this growth, comes a new kind of battleground for everyone to fight for attention on. And really, it’s going to come down to who has been servicing their community the best and who has built strong relationships. I really believe in the future, marketing will no longer be about trying to attract new customers – instead, it will be about retention of current customers. The brands with the strongest relationships with their communities will be the ones that come out ahead. Just as content is king; community will be the new commodity.