How a Diner Gets the Most Out of Social Media

Posted on September 28, 2012

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Squeeze In is a modest little breakfast-and-lunch diner with four locations in the greater Reno, Nev. area. The restaurants are open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. While online commenters rave about the food, I can’t get over how creatively this little chain has managed its social media. It has a Web site and a custom mobile site. It promotes the business through FoursquareTwitter,FacebookPinterest and Instagram.

“We want to reach our guests where they are: on their phones, in their homes, on their laptops or desktops, on their weekends and at their charitable events,” said Misty Young, 50, the company president. “We want to be in their heads when they think breakfast or lunch.”

The diner has a custom smartphone app. In 2010, the company invested $2,500 in building the app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones. It took four months to develop and to date, 2,795 people have downloaded it. If you browse the menu on the way over, you will find app-only deals to show your server once you’re seated. The deals have been redeemed nearly 2,000 times.

Servers have been trained to offer to take a group picture if they see a smartphone on the table. This, of course, is a terrific way to generate Instagram and Facebook photos that are posted directly by guests and then linked to by Squeeze In in its Flickr photo stream (the app also has a built-in tip calculator). Everything that’s done in social media is quantified. “Our Foursquare newbie offer for first time check-ins has been unlocked 1,151 times,” said Ms. Young. “The mayor special has been unlocked 140 times. People are actively using this stuff.”

The restaurant has 6,800 “likes” on Facebook, more than 42,000 views of its YouTube videos, more than 1,000 followers on Twitter and more than 52,000 members of its Egghead Breakfast Club, a guest loyalty program that uses a customized magnetic swipe card system. The transaction data taken from the cards drive marketing and sales decisions, promotions and initiatives. The program also helps lead members to social media review sites, and the chain responds to every review posted on Yelp. Not surprisingly, if you type the restaurant’s name into a Google search, you will find it holding the top three positions. And it never pays for online advertising.

The people who work at Squeeze In seem to have a lot of fun. “For example, we created an energetic parody video just for a good time and to feature our cool staff,” said Ms. Young. “It cost us a whopping $600 to produce.” The parody video is the staff’s take on the popular Black Eyed Peas song “Imma Be.” The Squeeze In version is called “Omma Lette.” It has been viewed more than 2,500 times.

The online presence helped the chain land a spot on the Food Network’s“Throwdown With Bobby Flay.” When Ms. Young asked a producer how the network had found Squeeze In, the producer responded, “We troll the Web, and we look for and listen to what people are saying.” The Food Network exposure immediately increased revenue 25 percent, Ms. Young said, and encouraged the company to speed up its expansion plans. “It’s called social for a reason,” she said. “We’ve multiplied our Twitter presence by 450 percent in a year. We’ve run contests, promoted specials, posted photos and videos, engaged. We’ve been social to keep growing.”

Squeeze In has 270 nonfiltered reviews on Yelp, and one of the owners of the restaurant has responded to every review. “Being responsive, social, relevant and listening has been a key to our social success,” said Ms. Young, who runs the business along with her husband, her daughter and her son-in-law, all of whom own a stake in the company. When the reigning mayor of FourSquare stops by, she is treated to a complimentary mimosa (yes, Squeeze In serves liquor at 8 a.m. to people who order bloody marys or champagne with their omelettes). Customers can also get free breakfasts on their birthdays and free champagne on their anniversaries.

The chain also uses social media in its internal operations. A private Facebook group, for example, helps communications with the 96 employees and has improved camaraderie, job satisfaction and job retention. And it uses multiple public Facebook pages to engage the surrounding communities. Each of the four locations has its own page to allow for check-ins and special offers, but they also offer community information — if there’s a cat lost, they post about it; if there’s a high school production or a breakfast event, they’ll support it and post it on their fan page.

This kind of social media effort does not come free. Squeeze In’s social media efforts are handled by three people: Ms. Young, who is really the face of the company in social media; her daughter, Shila Morris; and Eva Litson, a full-time communications manager. Ms. Young estimates that she spends an hour a day on social media, mostly in 15-minute bursts, monitoring the brand across all social media accounts and engaging with customers. Ms. Morris handles day-to-day operations and monitors Yelp. Ms. Litson handles external marketing efforts, including managing the Web site, the monthly newsletter and e-mail blasts, and she reviews the metrics of all the company’s social media efforts.

Of course, none of this would matter if people didn’t like the food. “All our communications tactics are lame and ineffective if we can’t back it up at the table,” said Ms. Young.

Melinda Emerson is founder and chief executive of Quintessence Multimedia, a social media strategy and content development firm. You can follow her onTwitter.

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Posted in: Social Media