Why emotion and understanding should be at the heart of your social strategy

08/03/2016 11:35:54

Thanks to social media, it could be argued that it has never been easier to reach your target audience, equally it is true to say that it has never been harder to reach them either. In reality, the tough competition hotels and restaurants face on the high street is present online too, where there are multiple food, drink and hospitality brands all competing to be heard.

These days it’s quick and easy to send a message out via social media, blogs or email newsletters and hope it generates a booking, that’s the easy part. However, in the long term this approach won’t work if you haven’t thought about the content and the audience carefully, that’s the harder part.

For hospitality brands to really use social media successfully, it’s crucial to think about the way people make their decisions around food and drink. Studies have shown that of the 200 or so decisions a day we make about food, most of these are made subconsciously, even when we think we’ve made a rational choice. So there’s a real need for hotels and restaurants to connect with customers on a more emotional level. 

Love, lust and trust

Some of you may have seen me talking about the powerful impact certain hospitality brands have on our emotions at Hotelympia, in the unveiling of Digital Blonde’s new ‘Love, Lust & Trust’ brand perception scale. During the session we looked at some of the country’s best loved restaurants and hotels and where they each fell on a consumer emotional spectrum (you can find out more on the Digital Blonde blog if you missed the session). The reason I focused so much on how these brands make us feel is because this can be the thing that really differentiates you and separates you from your competitors in a consumer’s brain. When you consider how the choice of hotel or the decision to book a table somewhere is often a matter of just a few clicks, it really becomes clear how important it is to form an emotional connection with consumers.

A good place to start is simply listening, you can use social media for this. People take to social media to talk or vent about, discuss or declare their love for food, brands, places and much more every day. This means there’s a huge amount of information and insight out there surrounding the behaviour, likes and dislikes of your customers.

The key to social success

Many of you may have heard me say that I honestly believe understanding human behaviour is the key to successful marketing. I stand by this statement. The truth is, you can have big budgets and the latest technology at your disposal but if you don’t produce content that resonates with your audience, you won’t see long term success from your social media. Ideally you want your content to spark a reaction, conversation or an emotional response from your audience, so think about how you could achieve this with each post that you do.

What’s your story?

So what’s the best way to engage with potential customers online and make sure they remember you?  A recent study concluded there is no ‘buy’ button in the brain but there is a ‘story’ button. What this means is that as human beings we tend to remember stories over facts, marketing messages or promotions. I explored this idea last year with an experiment which found that when descriptions were added to images of food shared on social media, it increased people’s depth of feeling. So by adding ‘the story’ of a dish to an image of it, you can actually heighten feelings of desire in your online audience. Try and look to tell a story with your posts, whether it’s the inspiration for a dish or how you gave a guest a memorable experience, you’ll probably find you have a lot to tell. 

Finding the balance

Interestingly, hospitality brands should note that there is a balance to be struck when it comes to eating out and social media use. A study known as the iPhone Effect* concluded that conversations and interactions were rated as significantly superior without the presence of a mobile device. At Digital Blonde we were curious to explore whether the same might be true for dining out. We ran an experiment, with some thought-provoking results. What we discovered was that when smart phones were removed from the dining experience, after some initial anxiety, diners actually reported having a better, more multisensory experience. It seems that smart phones have to a degree, desensitised us and decreased our in-the-moment enjoyment of eating out.

Clearly, as an industry there’s a need to get the balance right between connecting with customers online and making sure once they’re in a restaurant, they’re getting the full dining experience. It raises a lot of questions about the use of social media for hospitality brands and I plan to continue my research in this area – I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you in future. 

Karen Fewell, Founder of Digital Blonde Ltd and The Food Marketing School.

You can keep up to date with the latest research, insights and ideas from Digital Blonde at www.digitalblondemarketing.com and by following @DigitalBlonde on Twitter.