Social Media Help Business Build Relationships

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Erik and Stacy Hoover opened their restaurant, Cockeye BBQ, on the west side of Warren in May, they knew they faced challenges and that budgets would be tight.

To save money, Erik Hoover put his experience with the Internet to use. He’d spent years managing his dad’s e-commerce site.

Hoover set up a website for the restaurant and began posting to social media sites, turning away from traditional advertising channels such as newspapers, radio and billboards.

“Right now, it’s budgetary. If I had a 400-seat restaurant that’s packed day in and day out, maybe we could do it,” he says. “But we have 50 seats that are full pretty much every day. So I don’t care that we aren’t on TV or in a newspaper.”

The social media effort and customer response was so great that at the start of 2016, seven months after they opened, Erik and Stacy Hoover closed their restaurant a week and took a vacation.

Almost every day, Stacy Hoover says, new customers who come in who either found the restaurant’s Facebook page or saw a friend respond to one of Cockeye’s posts.

Because of their online presence combined with a lack of traditional advertising, Hoover knows customers find them in one of two ways: driving past the restaurant or on the Internet.

“Digital marketing is essential to success in America nowadays,” she says. “If you want to find something, you don’t look at the Yellow Pages any more. You Google it, find the address and you go.”

While social media are certainly the biggest aspect of digital marketing, they’re just a part of “this whole rubber band ball of things that are all integrated with each other,” says 898 Marketing founder Jeff Ryznar, who cites search engine optimization, digital advertising, text message advertising and, of course, websites. In fact, he notes, digital marketing encompasses anything that involves both marketing and the Internet.

Search engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is used to put search results as close to the top of the list as possible, ensuring that more users see your content.

Digital advertising, unlike some traditional media, can be tailored to reach a specific audience and provide detailed reaction and statistics.

“You can accurately measure what’s happening with no ambiguity,” Ryznar says.

“If there’s a billboard on Route 224, I know how many cars go by it but I don’t know who looks at it or who’s in the car. But on Facebook, I can target soon-to-be brides in their mid-20s in this area and I can know that I’m reaching them.”

While all aspects of digital marketing are intertwined, social media are the core of it. Those sites are the platforms to push out content, get reaction and, most important, interact with customers.

“There is no option not to. I don’t care if you’re a manufacturer or a restaurant or a dry cleaner. Staying in a digital relationship with customers or potential customers is critical,” says Richard Hahn, president of Keynote Media Group.

Customers of Cockeye, both Stacy and Erik Hoover relate, have posted their experiences there, both good and bad, on the restaurant’s Facebook or Twitter pages.

If the customer is still in their restaurant, one comes out to respond. If the patron has already left, they reply to those comments.

“It’s so simple and fast that we’d be crazy not to respond,” Stacy Hoover says. “If someone says they love the fried pickles, it takes two seconds to hit the Like button and we can do it within half an hour.”

Each social media site is tuned to work with a different customer base, Hahn says.

Facebook is used to develop personal relationships with customers, LinkedIn builds professional connections and YouTube works well for building a brand through videos.

While Hahn ensures all his clients have those three media, Twitter is used to get messages across to customers quickly but lacks some of the interaction seen on Facebook.

And how each social media site is used determines what businesses should be saying in that venue. LinkedIn, a professional site, should have a different tone than what goes out on Twitter.

At Farris Marketing, co-founder George Farris relies on the three types of messages used in social media: education, information and entertainment. The audience determines which is most important, he says. For business-to-business companies, education tops the list, where business-to-consumer companies should turn more toward entertainment and information.

“If you’re in roofing, education can be how to choose the right roof for a certain region,” he says. “Beneath that, information would be just flat-out pricing or where to go for a trade show. Those first two, education and information, are the big two because you’re providing things that are used every day in business.”

Unlike businesses, however, customers are more likely to use social media in their free time and look for entertainment instead of professional content, Farris says.

It’s on those kinds of posts that Erik Hoover spends more time.

It’s one thing to post a picture of a meal he prepared and say that it’s that day’s special, but something else to make sure customers engage with photos posted on Cockeye BBQ’s social media.

“Nobody wants to sit on Facebook all day and read ads. You want to see what’s new or what looks good,” he says.

“On my side of it, I might post something that has nothing to do with food and say, ‘We’re proud of this employee for doing something,’ and show that we’re a family business. All of that has an impact on customer.”

The goal of any marketing effort, whether in traditional forms or online, is to sell a product.

But the best way to do that with the Internet isn’t always to simply advertise, Ryznar says. The biggest part of digital marketing is telling customers what a business stands for.

“There’s an ethos and underlying value to why they do what they do. It all starts with understanding that,” he says. “The best thing that can happen isn’t selling something. It’s having someone see your brand and like it so much that they’re willing to share it without you asking them to.”

Just beneath social media in importance, he adds, is a website that works well. Ryznar compares a website to the foyer of a house: the first thing someone sees.

“If someone walks in to your home and the first thing they see is dirty shoes and piles of McDonald’s bags, they won’t want to stay long,” he notes. “The same goes for a website. If it’s messy or not optimized for mobile, they won’t stay.”

Today, just about everyone with a smartphone uses it to access the Internet. And with the abundance of tools to create mobile websites, there’s no justification to have a site that doesn’t work well on a smartphone.

“You want a site and format that automatically changes to any device that people will utilize,” he says. “It’s a very simple thing to do and there are so many free tools out there to do it. And you don’t have to spend any money.”

All four agree that the purpose of social media and digital marketing isn’t merely to sell products, but rather to interact with clients and customers in ways TV advertisements, billboards and radio spots can’t.

And, Hahn notes, something doesn’t need to go viral to be successful. All a post or a campaign need do is to engage social media followers.

As seen with the Hoovers, it need not be expensive and, they say, it doesn’t need to be time-consuming. With sites such as Hootsuite, posts for every social media site can be written, scheduled and posted from one place.

On top of the traffic social media have brought in, Erik Hoover adds, he and his wife have enjoyed some unexpected benefits beyond more customers.

Three times since the restaurant opened in May, other barbecue restaurants have contacted Cockeye to learn more about their business to discuss ideas and processes.

“Social media have made it easier for us to get in contact with other people who are like us,” Stacy Hoover says. “We can share ideas in a way that was never a possibility a decade ago.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.