Making Social Media Stick

The World of Tweeting, Texting and Friending Might Seem Overwhelming, but Social Media can be a Great Marketing Resource for Bars and Nightclubs

So here we are, struggling to come out of the deepest economic crisis we’ve ever seen. Yet with every crisis comes opportunity: in this case, it’s social media, a new way to tap into word-of-mouth marketing. Social media represents a new frontier of uncharted waters where so many people play that it boggles the mind. Today’s savvy bar and nightclub owners are using social media tools to turn tenuous consumers into loyal customers.

But social media is also like throwing spaghetti at a wall — we’re still trying to see what sticks, and are finding that not everything does. The good news is that most new media tools are free or very low cost, so a failure needn’t be expensive, it’s just a lesson learned. P. Moss, owner of Double Down in Las Vegas and New York and Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas, notes his own trial-and-error efforts. “This whole thing is so new that you just have to keep trying things to figure out what works out. What works for the big guys may not work for you, and so on. Everyone’s just kind of feeling their way.”

Jeffrey Yarbrough of Dallas-based BigInk, a PR and marketing firm, often supports clients’ social media campaigns. In the past, he notes, businesses never knew if print and broadcast media worked; it was difficult to track the impact of traditional media. “It was magic fairy dust if the cash register rang up,” he jokes. All that changes with social media: Typically, there is an immediate, measurable response from consumers, and bars are finding ways to integrate traditional and new media in unique ways.

Tools of the Trade
The most common social media tools of the trade for nightclubs are Facebook, Twitter and texting (forget MySpace — the demographic is too young). Dr. Rachna Jain, the chief social marketer of Gaithersburg, Md.-based MindShare Corp., an online marketing strategy firm, notes many nightclubs have adopted Facebook and Twitter as their primary social media tools. Whereas clubs once used web sites to draw in customers, now they go further to get people talking. “It’s a voyeuristic process,” she says. “You get greater leverage and penetration into a target market by using a social platform.”

For those living under a rock, Facebook is a free, one-stop portal where consumers can interact with one another and get information about your business, including events and videos. Many bars have built Facebook groups, but just having one is pointless if it’s not actively used. The key is not just to attract followers but to engage people so they come into your business. Facebook’s events feature is a powerful broadcast tool — your followers can use the invitation function to invite other friends, helping it spread virally.

Also for those asleep at the wheel, Twitter is a microblogging web site that supports updates or “tweets” of 140 or fewer characters. It can be done from any computer or cell phone and costs nothing. Bar and brand managers love Twitter, as it allows them to broadcast their opinions, news and goings-on to people.

Twitter isn’t as robust as Facebook — it’s simply a broadcast tool — so Jain points out that it’s best used within a specific geographic area. Tweeting to stir up local support for charitable events, such a bar donating 10 percent of an evening’s profits to an area charity, is particularly effective in getting the word out quickly. Twitter can easily rally a group of people in a “Tweetup,” such as tweeting “Meet me at Muriel’s bar at 6:30.” The downside with Twitter is that consumers get bored of self-serving or irrelevant postings and simply stop following those that don’t deliver value in the way of event news or relevant offers.

The third popular tool is texting, or short message service (SMS), a low-cost functionality built into every cell phone. People simply need your bar’s short code (like a mini phone number) and a code word that will trigger a response. Danny Cantrell, the CEO of Dallas-based Marketing Response Solutions, says: “Americans are using their cell phones more for texting now rather than talking. It’s overtaking the computer as the most important device.”

Nightclubs can easily integrate texting into their existing print advertising via this opt-in system. People may read a print ad stating they can get a free drink if they text in a keyword. Once a venue receives a text request, that phone number is added into the database, and the marketing team can now broadcast a DJ, event or drink specials. A text campaign can turn a slow evening into a hopping night.

Bob Bentz is the owner of Advanced Telecom Services, a mobile marketing company in Philadelphia. “Nightclubs have been a very good market for us because customers are young, likely don’t have a landline phone, and are very mobile and not e-mail oriented,” he says. Bentz notes that texting is very inexpensive. A bucket of SMS messages costs very little: $500 a month to reach 10,000 people, or five cents per message. A benefit is the viral nature of texting: people can forward coupons to their friends. This bonus coverage costs nothing.

“What we’ve seen is that SMS response rates are incredibly high — up to 20 percent,” remarks Vitaliy Levit of Columbus, Ohio’s Recess Mobile, another mobile marketing company. This is much higher than print media. “SMS has proven to be an incredibly powerful tool for bars and the nightlife scene.” Recess Mobile can develop fun texting tools to engage customers. For example, people can text in witty sayings that the club then projects on a wall for all to read, and in turn, the nightclub captures the phone number for use in marketing future events.

“The most exciting thing about texting is that it provides measurability for the marketing efforts for these businesses and bar owners,” Cantrell says. A bar might try a split text campaign, like asking people to text in for a free drink or text in for an event, each with a different code word. Right away the bar can see which has a better response.

Making One Person Happy
Let’s see how this plays out with a couple of businesses. Jeffrey Tyler is the marketing director for Baja Sharkeez’s seven restaurants in southern California, and he relies on Facebook, Twitter and texting. One particularly effective tool for Sharkeez is a mandate requiring every worker to bring in at least 10 people per shift using social media.

“It’s not just a request to do this; it’s part of everyone’s daily duties,” he notes. “They have no problem doing it because they have seen the results directly in their wallets!”

Baja Sharkeez still prints hundreds of thousands of fliers each year, yet each now directs people to a Facebook page or gives a texting code for a specific event. Likewise, each location’s weekly mass e-mail includes social marketing reminders.

Double Down and Frankie’s Tiki Room’s Moss also uses Facebook, Twitter and texting. “I’ve always found that conventional advertising has never worked for me because we’re a smaller, personal business, rather than a nightclub with giant lines outside.” He doesn’t send out Facebook event invitations, but rather messages his groups (note the difference — it’s a little more personal).

Mass texting can annoy people, Moss notes, adding: “I try to send things out but not very often. I try to make it important so people don’t delete it.” He sends out three or four tweets a week, such as a free drink for the first people who come to the bar, which has helped develop a loyal following. “It’s a personal touch — one on one. If you make one person happy, then they’ll tell another friend and so on. I’m just trying to use these social networking tools to expand that personal way of doing things.”

That’s the key to unlocking the potential of social media marketing: make it personal for your guest. Tailor the offers or updates to the interests of your patrons and keep the communications fresh and engaging, and watch your business grow. NCB

Tips for Social Media Success

Be relevant. Do we really need hourly updates from you on Twitter? Uh, no. Keep it relevant and interesting — or don’t say anything. Mindless updates annoy followers, who soon drop off.

Make social media special. “People like to belong to clubs — something that is exclusive to them,” says Dr. Rachna Jain, the chief social marketer of MindShare. “VIP-only events work well for many clubs. VIP clients get special text messages or free admission or discounted drinks. They can get this using text messaging.”

Get creative. Limited time? No problem. Jeffrey Yarbrough of Dallas-based BigInk has a couple of tricks up his sleeve. He recommends that a bar create a one-person character, such as a busboy who tells a funny story about what happened last night. You tell it sequentially over the course of a day through Facebook and Twitter. One person can manage this creative program, and it won’t take but take 30 minutes a day.

Make it about the end-user rather than you. What do they get by providing their cell phone number — a free drink? Their witty remark broadcast throughout the bar? The potential for a hot date or to win VIP status? Engage them on a personal level and deliver something of value to them. 

Integrate the old with the new. Traditional media like print ads isn’t dead. Add a texting short code and key words, a Facebook page or the words “Follow me on Twitter.” Include a call to action such as “Text here to get on the VIP list,” and you’re suddenly leveraging two powerful marketing vehicles.

Empower your employees. If you employ 20- or 30-somethings, you know they are all on Facebook. Ask (or require!) them to appeal to their online friends. Their incentive is a larger crowd, greater tips and fun people to chat with during their shift.

Create and broadcast. While building a Facebook page is a nice start, you have to promote the business with a string of relevant events. Make sure you deliver on your promises once your social media followers walk through your door.

Facebook math. Facebook Events have their own math. It’s simple: “Attending” means “Maybe” (about two-thirds will show up); “Maybe” means “Not Attending.” (I experienced this firsthand on my book tour with dozens of events, all broadcast through Facebook. “Maybes” simply won’t show up.)

When in doubt, ask! There are a number of mobile marketing companies that are actively designing programs for nightclubs and bars. They can help build a social program for your venue that can expand your base of loyal customers.

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