Going Social

Going Social

EastEnders may paint a warped picture of pub life but the Queen Victoria’s starring role is at least accurate in conveying how, historically, pubs have always been at the heart of the local community, with friends and family gathering on a regular basis to share news and gossip over a drink.  Today, the way that people interact socially has changed hugely, with millions of conversations taking place via the medium of Facebook and Twitter rather than face-to-face or over the phone. Every minute, more than 100,000 tweets are sent, 600,000 pieces of content are shared on Facebook and 3,600 photos are uploaded to Instagram.  But just because conversation has shifted to a different medium doesn’t mean that the pub can’t play a role in this new dialogue. Indeed, social media can be an opportunity for landlords to join the conversation and capitalise financially by creating their own community of online followers. So what social media channels should you join? And what are the potential pitfalls to avoid? 

If you’re going to create a social media presence, it’s important to choose the right platform for your individual circumstances, because some platforms will suit your business better than others.  The two biggest social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter. With more than 1.2 billion users, Facebook is the most widely accessible. It consists of status updates and shared images, and many pubs already use it to showcase dishes and drinks on the menu.  Twitter is more immediate – since users are limited to short captions of 140 characters or less, the platform lends itself more to stream-of-consciousness comments and off-the-cuff remarks. As a result, it works best for customer service responses and to keep people updated in real time about what’s going on in the pub. Other platforms worth considering – especially if your venue is popular with a younger audience – are photo-driven channels like Instagram and Pinterest, as well as Vine, a relatively new platform that allows users to post short-form videos.

The key to choosing one or more social media channels is finding the one that’s right for your customer base, says Ashleigh Soppet, Social Media Executive at specialist social agency Headstream.  “You’re better off doing a couple of them and doing them well, rather than over-exerting yourself socially,” stresses Ashleigh. For rural pubs with an uppermiddle-class professional, 50-something clientele, it’s less important to be on channels like Instagram and Vine. “Opt for Twitter, because last year saw its fastest growing demographic being the 55-64-year-old age bracket. On the flipside, if you’re a popular drinking location with young professionals in the City, regular updates on Twitter and Instagram, with the occasional Vine video on the feed, will work wonders to tease clientele through your doors after the working day,” says Ashleigh.

If you’re unsure which platform is most relevant for your customer base, do a straw poll of drinkers at the bar, advises Rebecca Appleton, Managing Director at digital marketing agency Dakota Digital. “The key thing for any bar is that they need a presence on the platforms their customers use. This is a great way to ensure you are where your drinkers are,” says Rebecca.

Once you’ve chosen your platforms, you need to establish a set of user guidelines. There are no hard and fast rules as to how individual pubs should use these channels. Some landlords might want to shoulder the responsibility for all posts written and tweets sent out, whereas others might be happy assigning different staff members to use the accounts. Whichever approach you take, make sure your messages reflect the personality of the pub.  This is particularly the case with Twitter, says Nick Vale, Global Head of Planning at media agency Maxus.  “With Twitter it’s much easier to do a bad tweet than a good one,” says Nick. Seniority isn’t always best, he cautions, adding: “It doesn’t matter if this person is a junior member of bar staff – if they’re able to express themselves in the tone of voice that you want the pub to project, this can be an incredibly valuable thing.”

In addition to establishing the right tonality, you also need to establish the right frequency of posts. One post a day on Facebook is perfectly acceptable, but on Twitter you should aim to post on multiple occasions.  Nick advises making sure that messages are sent at key times of the day. “If you’re on Twitter and you’ve builtup a good number of followers, then start tweeting at 7pm, especially on the weekend, because that’s going to help you to fill the venue,” he says.

Whatever degree of frequency you choose, make sure that what you post is meaningful, advises Rebecca.  “Try and update as often as possible, but not so much that you are posting just for the sake of it. It’s as bad to leave an account dormant for weeks, as it is to flood fans’ feeds with a lot of pointless posts. Find a rhythm that works and stick to it.”

Rebecca also suggests conducting a training session with staff so that you can brief them on how to handle complaints and negative messages. “You need to ensure that everyone has a best practice guide and is clear on what is and isn’t appropriate,” she explains. “Sites like Facebook also have different access levels for administrators so you can have one person in overall control and others with restricted privileges.”

For those with no experience of dealing with social media channels, it can seem quite a daunting process at first, but there are tools out there to help businesses manage their online presence. Facebook Analytics allows users to see what content is working in terms of community engagement. You can also use it to schedule posts in advance so that your message is posted automatically; perfect for when you’re busy.  Tweetdeck allows you to do the same for multiple Twitter accounts, while Hootsuite enables you to track mentions of the pub and analyse social media traffic around it. 

For a more in-depth introduction to social media channels, Star Pubs & Bars is introducing a new social media training module this summer via its e-learning console. This will be supported with roadshows that will take place around the UK in August and September. The module will cover the basics of social media, such as how to build awareness of your business, create a buzz around it, find new customers, win more followers and engage with your audience. 

Modules on the e-learning console, which costs lessees £250 per year + VAT, for unlimited access to more than 30 modules, can be accessed at any time, whenever is most convenient for the lessee or their team. This means that people can dip in and out if they don’t have the time to complete it in one sitting. 

Getting some formal training is a sensible idea, because once you’ve established a social media presence, you open yourself up to bad reviews and customer complaints that could potentially be seen by thousands of users. “You need to develop a strategy to deal with these professionally, just as you would in the real world,” advises Rebecca.  You also have to be quick to respond to this type of communication. A poll by Social Habit shows that 42% of customers expect a response within an hour; ignoring complaints can escalate things.  While complaints posted on social media channels clearly have the potential to be problematic, there’s also an opportunity to turn these to your advantage if you respond in the right manner, according to Ashleigh at Headstream: “Research shows that 71% of consumers who experience a quick and effective brand response on social media are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers who do not receive a response.”

Whatever strategy you decide to embrace, joining a social media channel is essentially entering into a two-way dialogue with your customers, so treat it as a conversation medium. “This is not a dive-in-anddive-out medium because people won’t take any notice of you and follow you,” says Nick. “If you’re prepared to have a constant conversation and open the door to what’s going on in in your pub, then it becomes tremendously attractive to people and it can be an incredibly powerful medium for your business.”