Home Hacking How Restaurants Can ‘Hack’ Social Media Algorithms

How Restaurants Can ‘Hack’ Social Media Algorithms

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In today’s world of the internet and social media, content is produced at an overwhelming rate. In a single day, there are 4.75 million items shared by Facebook users each day, 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram and about 720,000 hours of fresh video content per day on YouTube. With all the content being created , it’s impossible for social media channels to display 100 percent of the content to a user’s feed. So, businesses often find their posts are lost in the deluge of content—especially since their content is only shown to less than 5 percent of their total audience due to social media algorithms resulting in an average engagement rate of only about 0.25 percent, according to Hootsuite. For businesses looking to engage with their customers and ultimately drive revenue via social media, knowing how to use the social media algorithm to your benefit  and ensuring your content is front and center becomes critical.

The business of social media platforms and why they need an algorithm

As demonstrated above, the reality is that there is too much content being generated to display all things to a user. Further, users have short attention spans and other priorities competing for their time.

All social media platforms are driven by one thing: find relevant popular content for users, whether a picture of a puppy, a really popular band, or a friend’s story and put it in front of them. Why? Because the truth is, active users and the time they spend on the social platform is the most significant asset of a social media platform. The platforms are all competing for that “golden” asset, the active user. Failure to bring the user the popular content, that is easily accessed and at the top of the page (their “feed”), will result in their users going to another platform–because no one wants to be bored, look at unpopular content or spend hours going through the deluge of content that is being posted every hour to find something that interests them.

Thus “the algorithm” is the most critical user facing component to the social media platform.

How social media algorithms work

According to Facebook, the platform says the purpose is to “discover new content and connect with stories they [the users] care about the most.” Social media channels like Facebook accomplish this by ranking content based on three main criteria: The people and businesses users interact with the most, the type of content users tend to engage with (for example, photos vs videos) and the amount of engagement a particular post is receiving. When a business sees that posts are receiving very low engagement, it’s likely that the posts aren’t meeting the criteria and thus aren’t being delivered to a large enough percentage of followers. In essence, all that hard work creating social media content and planning and scheduling the posts is being wasted.

Beating the algorithm by increasing your Social Gravity

The way many businesses ensure their posts will appear in people’s feeds is by boosting the posts by placing a paid budget behind it via social media advertising. In fact, a survey of business executives by Sprout Social found that 80% think it’s important to invest in social media advertising to achieve a strong social media presence. Boosting fundamentally sounds like the easy way to get more exposure, but there are several nuances to the strategy. For example, by boosting a post one area you will get more exposure would be an increase in display of the post to your followers, intuitively this would seem positive however the next question is key, “what is the quality of your followers?” If your followers are high value, brand loyal connections then this is a great investment, but if your followers have been acquired through paid exposure, or non-relevant cute pictures of puppies, then these connections are less likely to engage or take your Call-to-Action. It turns out that boosting as a singular strategy is randomly effective and the ROI is not a reliable method of engaging your customers.  What if there were a better strategy that didn’t rely on paid advertising to ensure the algorithm works in your favor?

Let’s go back to the criteria social channels like Facebook use to rank content. Number one, it’s the content that people interact with the most, quantified as  likes/reactions, comments or shares–and these elements build on each other. For example, when a post by a business is shared, not only is that person seeing it, but all of the people they’re connected with through social media. And as more people begin to see it and click and engage, the algorithm notes this engagement and delivers it to more users. A helpful way to think about this is through a term I coined: Social Gravity. Gravity is a force that attracts mass, and social media works in a similar way. A post attracts reactions, comments, shares, etc., which increases the original posts popularity (mass) and that increase then adds to the popularity resulting in greater and greater gravity with each engagement. Thus, it increases social gravity.

But imagine taking it a step further and integrating your business’s social media with other technologies to create a successful revenue-driving strategy. This is where integrated WiFi marketing comes in.

A revenue-generating advantage through integration

Integrating technologies to further customer engagement and hack the social media algorithm looks like this: A customer goes to a sports bar during happy hour and provides his name and phone number to access the WiFi. The restaurant collects that information and can utilize it to engage with the customer. While he’s still inside the sports bar, he receives a text message with a link to a Facebook post sharing that appetizers are buy one get one free during happy hour. The Social Gravity is instantly increased because his smart phone reaches out to Facebook and displays a “preview” of the post or event. The social algorithm sees that preview as activity. He’s already at the sports bar during happy hour, so this is a great post to see, and he “clicks” the link which opens Facebook and goes to the post. Again, the social algorithm then “sees” that someone has opened Facebook and gone directly to the full post further increasing the Social Gravity of the post.

But, then he likes the post and then shares it so that his friends see it too and both of these activities are “seen” by Facebook and each has a greater impact to the Social Gravity of the post. One simple text immediately becomes four measurable events that all contribute to the Social Gravity of the original post. And while at it, he orders an appetizer to take advantage of the buy one get one free deal. This is one person though, now multiply that across everyone who comes into the sports bar during happy hour. That’s a lot of people engaging with the post which ensures the algorithm will rank it higher. Not only did the sports bar not have to pay to boost the post, but it also gained revenue from the happy hour promotion.

The above example utilizes a sports bar, but the use of integrated WiFi marketing campaigns has grown across business sectors including restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, retail stores and franchises. The strategy is effective since customers enjoy having access to free WiFi (96 percent prefer businesses that offer it according to Global Market Insights) and 74 percent of people are happy for businesses to send them text promotions while using the in-store WiFi, according to an OnDeviceResearch survey. Also, integrated WiFi marketing campaigns are hyper-targeted and delivered in real-time which further ensures the right customers are receiving the right message at the right time.

A sports bar’s Facebook post promoting a happy hour special is one example. But there are numerous opportunities to integrate WiFi, social media, text messaging and even digital signage to drive engagement across social media platforms and hack the algorithms—and that’s merely the start. The end result is revenue and improved profitability from driving more customer traffic, filling seats in restaurants on the slowest days, boosting average sales or gaining larger event attendance.

 

Stephen Gould is an entrepreneur with a successful history providing guest-engagement software solutions for the hospitality industry and he is the founder and CEO of NConnections. He holds a bachelors degree in computer science from the University of Central Florida.

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