One of the hottest topics in foodservice has become the issue of social networking and its potential value to the industry.
The debate is not about whether you think we as a society have become consumed by Internet technology. We have. There is absolutely no doubt about it. The point to ponder is, given that we have become a “wired” society, how valuable a tool can this fact become for foodservice operators.
Many commercial restaurateurs and companies have embraced this new age, augmenting their traditional marketing methods for more cutting-edge tactics. For example, quick-serve chains like Burger King have created ads specifically for Web sites like YouTube in order to reach younger customers who might not read newspapers or magazines, or even view “traditional” television.
Non-commercial foodservice is a very heterogeneous industry. Although there are several challenges—and opportunities—common to all, there are differences in how operators in each market segment manage their staffs and customer bases. The average age of a market’s consumers plays a major role in dictating menu, design, marketing and other elements, as does ethnicity and social and economic status. Often, what works for one segment will never fly in another because of this diversity.
As a result, the response to the age of high-tech social networking has varied from sector to sector. A growing number of colleges and universities have locked on to Web technology to communicate with a customer base that is more wired than any other. Not only do many colleges have Web sites, they also have Facebook or MySpace pages, and a growing number have also begin seeing the value in being part of the Twitter community.
Conversely, operators in the long-term care segment likely see very little value in these networking tools; their customers are less likely than any other group to use computers, let alone be members of a networking site like Facebook.
But I’m curious. Who among our readership sees value in social media, and in what ways does that value manifest itself? So I’d love to hear from you. Tell me whether you use any Web-based technology as a marketing or communications tool, and if so, how? What kind of response have you received from customers? What are the drawbacks you see to using such technology?
The easiest way to reach me is by email; I haven’t quite joined the Twitter generation, although it’s coming. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.