Non-commercial foodservice slow to embrace social media

When used, however, photos are the key to social media engagement, operators say.

College operators are significantly more likely than other market segments to use social media to connect with their customers, according to The Big Picture data. Seventy-five percent use Facebook, and 38% say they employ Twitter. FSD spoke to marketing managers for dining services at two universities to find out about their social media strategies.

University of Missouri, Columbia

“You can really only focus on one social media strategy at a time,” says Michael Wuest, marketing manager for Campus Dining Services. “We decided to focus on increasing student engagement. Some people are focused on grabbing tons of followers or ‘likes,’ but we wanted to develop a good group of customers who would become ambassadors of our brand.”

According to Wuest, the most effective way to engage students is relatively simple: use photos. A daily hashtag promotion, launched this semester, incorporates photos whenever possible. A hashtag is a way to identify a topic on Twitter. For example, the department does a promotion called MyPlate Monday where students are asked via hashtag to submit photos of their plates, which are then posted in a Facebook album.

“People are visual and we get a lot more responses out of people if we share pictures than if we share a text-based update,” Wuest says. “We do Tuesday trivia questions, and they were originally just text-based messages. We added pictures to the posts, and the number of people who responded jumped.”

Michigan State University, East Lansing

Photos are also a big part of the social media strategy for Lindsey Bliss, digital communications manager. Her department uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect with customers. Recently, Bliss says she sent one of her social media interns to the university’s Halloween dinner to take photos and live-tweet the event. By the end of the night, the photos had already been posted on Facebook by students.

“Definitely make [your social media strategy] immediate, relevant and really interactive,” says Bliss. “I’ve noticed a real trend toward image-based sharing, so we try to use a lot of photos. Anything we post will have either a photo, a link to a YouTube video or a link back to our website, so it offers something besides just text.”

One important note, Bliss says, is to keep the same username for all your different social media platforms so followers can easily find you. On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, MSU students know to look for the EatAtState name.

“Another cool thing we do with Twitter is we post daily specials that students can’t find out about anywhere else,” Bliss says. “We want to create a feeling of exclusivity to give customers a reason to follow us.” 

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The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

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