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It’s an overwhelming statistic: over 1 billion users log on to one social media platform, comprised of thousands of new markets and thousands of new customers changing and expanding every day. With such a wealth of information and activity in the same place, there’s no confusion as to why Instagram is often considered the most influential social media platform of the twenty-first century. So how can you, as a restaurant and as a member of the Instagram community, learn to work with the trends and fads of the picture sharing app in order to grow your own customer base? Here are seven of the best ways to engage with Instagram as a restaurant, both in your own local community and in an online community that could change the way you do business.
#7. Know the Algorithm.
The Instagram algorithm, a set of rules by which Instagram is designed to sort and present material to users, is one of the most controversial in the social media world. Instagram pioneered an algorithm that sorts each person’s feed by people and accounts that person appears to engage with the most, instead of by chronology. That way, on your personal feed, the accounts that Instagram decides you like best get shown to you first. So how do you work around that algorithm as a restaurant? Not only are you not a personal account, but you’re also not likely to appear on anyone’s top favorites list until you boost your own follower count. Understanding this algorithm is the key to beginning to market yourself on Instagram: now that you know that your posts won’t be sorted chronologically, you can begin to work within the constraints of the platform to utilize in-app tools alongside the rest of these seven tips to maximize the feedback and engagement your restaurant receives on Instagram. Begin by making sure that your profile is entirely public and available to the whole Instagram community. Any marketing you do will be twice as effective this way, and you’re ready to get started.
#6. Know Your Audience.
One of the best ways to combat the Instagram anti-chronology timeline is to better learn the habits of the individuals you wish to target. Now, with a community as big as 800 million, you’re not going to be able to narrow down target audiences into entirely bite-sized chunks. However, you have a leg up: as a restaurant, your audiences are going to have certain characteristics in common with the overall demeanor and mission statement of your restaurant. If you’re family-friendly and would rather emphasize birthday parties than happy hour, your diners and therefore your followers are going to tend to enjoy content along those same lines. An account that gives them enough of what they want to keep them satisfied, but enough of its own personal flair, is what you’re aiming for. Pick three or four defining characteristics for your restaurant and take time to learn what those hashtags typically look like in the Instagram community. Search them on your explore page, denoted by the magnifying glass at the bottom of your app’s home screen, to familiarize yourself with the trends each community tends to follow. Your branding begins here. For example: You’ve just begun an Instagram account for your new craft burger restaurant. You search the hashtag “burger” on Instagram, and notice that other similar restaurants always photograph their burgers looking juicy, in good lighting, during the daytime, accompanied by fries or a similar side dish specific to each location. At the very least, you would want your own restaurant’s burger to meet those requirements; once your burger is juicy, bright, and one whole meal, you are ready to meet the competition, and bring in your own unique touches. (Pro Tip: in order to easily follow and keep track of each of your favorite tags, you can follow a hashtag at the top of its explore page!) By learning your audiences first and crafting a unique, but concise, image for your restaurant in accordance with them, you’ll be a more competitive online presence, and more importantly, you’ll be able to connect with those diners who will really enjoy your restaurant, whom you cook for in the first place.
#5. Learn How to Tag.
Tagging is a beast with many heads, but arguably the one you’ll most want to tackle in your Instagram marketing campaign. Besides indicating in the biography section of your personal profile, tagging is the best way for you to seek and connect with businesses in your neighborhood(s) as well as the best way for Instagram to triangulate your location and connect you with accounts near your physical base of operations. There are a few different types of tagging to familiarize yourself with: tagging a location, tagging a personal/private account, and tagging a brand or business. Most often, you’ll want to be tagging and interacting with other businesses, local community groups and publications, suppliers, and companies your restaurant partners with. These types of tags will allow you to engage with corporate entities who have a larger audience than you and possibly garner recognition from larger accounts. Tagging companies or products you work with often could also end in discounts or promotions for your restaurant. You never know! The best way for restaurants to tag and interact with their diners is to run promotions and contests posted on Instagram that occur in-house. An example: During happy hour, every fifth table through the door between 3 pm and 6 pm get their first round free. Don’t forget to snap a picture of each of the winners and get their handles so you can tag them! Once they’ve been tagged, that photo shows up on their personal profile alongside your restaurant, and you’ve tapped into a whole new branch of Instagram’s community with a single tag.
#4. Optimize Your Posts.
Search Engine Optimization (often referred to as “SEO”), is a term thrown around in today’s online world haphazardly to simply mean making sure you’ve done every possible thing to make your posts as visible as possible. Working to optimize your posts in the Instagram world can often be done for free, although you can always consider turning your personal account into a business account, and purchasing Instagram marketing tools from there. However, these simple and free tricks will help you to optimize your posts’ visibility without optimizing your expenses. One of the best ways to optimize your posts on Instagram is to post during peak hours. Peak hours tend to vary depending on audience and type of account, but there is a general consensus that the best times to post are, during weekdays, around lunch time loosely from 11 am to 2 pm and during the evening loosely from 7 pm to 9 pm, and during weekends from 10 am to 12 pm during the day and in the evenings from 8 pm to 2 am. If you choose to make the shift from a personal profile to a business account on Instagram, the platform will cultivate similar activity analytics to determine your specific personal engagement, i.e., when your own followers engage with you, regardless of posting time. However, even without that information, sticking to these peak hours will boost the number of likes and comments you receive on your posts, and therefore reach a larger audience and higher visibility. To further optimize your photos and videos, make sure to include all relevant hashtags, both the ones you’ve chosen and ones you would feel are simply applicable to your photo or video’s caption. One of the best ways to determine which hashtags will garner the best results is to begin typing them in the “Search” bar of your explore page, after you’ve chosen to search through “Tags”. Begin with the first letter of the word you wish to search, and then wait for the app to fill in the most popular responses to that first letter. Then, going letter by letter, finish your word, altering the phrasing, spelling, capitalization, and length of your initial word to match what is most popular on Instagram. These tags are used the most, see the most, and receive the best engagement. Use them. If you’re averse to putting tags in your photo or video’s captions, don’t worry, you’re not alone- lots of people find that distracting and tacky. Instead, sneak your hashtags into a comment. Commenting on your own photo with hashtags makes sure your photo still belongs to each tag’s community, without appearing in your caption. Plus, first or second comments get hidden once third and fourth comments flood in, meaning you can get away with tagging and promoting yourself without anyone knowing. Each time you tag you connect yourself with a new branch of Instagram’s far-reaching network and bring yourself closer to the publicity you, and your diners, need.
#3. Maintain Your Story!
Although the large majority of Instagram marketing tends to involve more technical and strategic action, it can also be a great space for your restaurant to showcase its unique and individual creative flare. Your Instagram story is great way to give your diners a deeper insight into what makes your restaurant tick. Stories can be pictures, videos, or boomerangs (Instagram’s special GIF-like animation creator), and keep your diners up to date on information not necessarily worthy of a full post. Your story could be a video of a staff meeting activity, pictures of seasonal menu items when they first debut, or boomerangs of your employees opening the patio doors at the start of summer. Updates to your story can be seen by all of your followers, and they help to keep you relevant and visible in the community. As with all social media, the best way to gain followers is to make yourself visible, and a story posted every day ensures you’re always on someone’s mind.
#2. Be Yourself.
Like with posting to your story, it is crucial on Instagram to stay true to your own unique characteristics instead of simply copying the aesthetic of a popular account. That being said, it is also important to put a certain amount more work into your posted photos and videos than you do in your stories. Where a story can be sillier and less professionally captured, posts to your page that will stay for longer than 24-hours should take more work and be more meticulously fitted to your brand. You want to make sure your account finds a nice balance between a cohesive, consistent aesthetic, and personal touch. Download a good-quality photo editing app like Afterlight 2 or VSCO (there are many, many editing apps, but these two are the cheapest, easiest, and most widely known). Then, choose a filter and editing style that you like and save it as a pre-setting for your account. Not only do pre-set editing steps save on the amount of time it takes for you to edit each post, but they hold together your entire profile and give it an appearance unique to you without straying too far from the hottest trends.
#1. Be Active.
Once you’ve learned to carry out each of these steps on your restaurant’s Instagram page, you have to commit to carrying them out consistently. By themselves each step can have a small impact on the amount of engagement your account receives. Together, each of these seven steps can add thousands of followers to your page and diners to your tables as long as your account remains active and therefore relevant. Like the pictures and videos posted by accounts you follow, leave positive comments, follow new accounts similar to your own, track your favorite hashtags, and host in-house contests and promotions that connect your online profile with your physical product. 800 million users on one platform may seem intimidating at first, but these seven simple tips and tricks combined with an active account can unlock your own small piece of that 1 billion users enough to boost your restaurant into the next stage of growth and development.