Social Influencer Series | Chef, Restaurateur, Co-Founders, Louis DiBiccari/Jeannie Hannigan
Louis DiBiccari was an early innovator who created one of the first social networks right here in Boston. No, "Iron Chef" Louis didn't invent Six Degrees or MySpace, but rather a real community based social network of Boston Foodies who would come together at exclusively inclusive gatherings inspired by collaborative, user-generated ingredients and themes.
From those simple grass-roots, a movement was formed that catapulted Louis to chef stardom and eventually the launch of his very own award winning restaurant - Tavern Road. His love affair and passion for incredible food and inspired libations can be felt in every nuance of Tavern Road, including the way they use social to bring their "brand love" to life. I met Louis long ago, but our story today begins right here, with a polished and delicious looking post on their Instagram page.
Enter in Jeannie Hannigan who co-founded Front Burner Social with Louis. Front Burner Social is a social media marketing firm dedicated to food, beverage and lifestyle brands. They see the value that social provides for brands big and small - helping them create passionate communities of fans and brand advocates that engage with great content and common interest. Louis learned that long ago as both a Pats Fan and an inspired foodie and restaurateur. Together with Jeannie, they do inspired social for an expanding client base of food and beverage clientele.
I caught up with both Jeannie and Louis for a delicious lunch at Tavern Road. Here is a snapshot of what they had to say:
How important is social media to your world - the restaurant industry, hospitality? What does is it mean to your brand?
LD: Social media is and will continue to play a vital role throughout the restaurant industry. For me, it's an important tool for showcasing our culture, which includes our food and beverage program, of course, but also who we are as people and as a restaurant family. That's a very important piece if you think about the limitations we were dealt before social media was a part of our culture. As a customer you could view a menu and some pictures on a restaurant website, but now you can follow along at a more intimate level. Our brand is our team and our vision, it's our purveyors, farmers, local markets, ingredients & celebrations. We can show all of this through social media. What was once a mission statement you could read in the "about" section of a website is now a conversation you can be a part of.
JH: Five years ago, many restaurants viewed social media as something that’s nice to have, but not really necessary. Today, it’s more or less mandatory to have a presence on social media. People use social media to learn about new things, to make decisions about where to eat and which events to attend, and to share their experiences with others. If your business is not playing an active role in that process -- posting drool-worthy photos, responding to guests commenting on posts, sharing info about cool events, encouraging guests to post -- then you’re falling behind the many businesses that are.
And from a hospitality standpoint, it’s just an extension of what happens in the restaurant. You can delight your guests by thanking them in the comments of an Instagram post from your restaurant (which, by the way, is free and easy), resolve issues by responding to an unfavorable Yelp review, or simply provide them with the info they need to visit you in the near future. You’d be surprised how many people make reservations or ask questions through Facebook messenger and Twitter.
You created Front Burner Social out your mastery of the model for the restaurant industry - describe your vision and approach?
LD: Front Burner Social evolved out of the several incarnations of how our social media techniques changed over time. We began with by building "Chef Louie Nights" organically; we transitioned those practices into building CREATE BOSTON (A Celebration of Arts, Food, Cocktails and Music); then eventually into the opening of Tavern Road. Through these events and the restaurant we felt confident we could offer a unique perspective and deliver services at a really high level to other restaurants and throughout the hospitality industry. Our vision is to become the leader in social media services for all aspects of hospitality. I have been cooking for 20 years and I've built some very strong relationships here in Boston. I want to see Boston restaurants succeed and I know how difficult this business is. We felt we were developing a service that could help restaurants that might struggle a bit to find their voice through social media channels. Our approach is to discover exactly what each brands message is and should be, concentrating on that message and using it as a filter to effectively voice that message through social media filters. We showcase our clients brands through a creative lens that highlights who they are and what separates them from other restaurants or events or products.
Why do restaurants (and businesses) struggle with effective social media strategy?
LD: Restaurants tend to struggle a bit on the social media end for a number of reasons. One example is personnel. Who is going to own the accounts, and by default, the voice of your brand? Is it a middle manager? The chef? The event coordinator? All of these may look like logical choices because they operate within the four walls of your restaurant, but ultimately those positions will turnover. When that happens the responsibilities of social media, and the public voice of your brand, turnover with them. For the majority of your customers, social media is how they've come to know you and the conversation you create with social media is how they engage with you. Having a consistent voice is vital. Also, restaurants demand a lot of each employee. Social media, done effectively, eats up a lot of work hours. Restaurant managers and chefs have very specific job descriptions and tons of responsibilities in the day to day operation of a restaurant. Many of those hours and responsibilities take place during service periods, lunch, dinner, brunch. They need to be on the floor or in the kitchen. It's difficult to balance that and deliver the proper attention to their business's social media strategy. That strategy, done efficiently would include building a social media calendar, creating content ahead of time, timely posting, interacting with engagement, tracking the results of your posts, developing campaigns and creating weekly/monthly reports for owners and managers to view and discuss. It's a lot of work to do it right. If a member of your restaurant team is doing all of those things then something else is slipping through the cracks and it's possible they are not fulfilling their job description to their full potential.
What trends are you seeing that are game changing for 2017?
JH: When your hip, foodie friend tells you about a spot that serves THE BEST brunch, you’re probably gonna take that recommendation and check it out. That’s kind of what happens when you work with social media influencers, and they literally have thousands of “friends” tuned in. There are people out there who have built up quite a following for themselves on social media, and they have highly engaged followers. If you can get these people snapping pics at a dinner at your restaurant or sharing their experience at your event on their blog, it can be a powerful thing. It helps you reach people beyond your own immediate network, and, for lack of a better way to say it, makes your brand look cool.
Also, in-the-moment social media is the wave of the future! Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook stories, and the ability to “go live” from a variety of platforms is getting bigger and bigger. I think it appeals so much to users because it’s authentic. It’s harder to stage or edit those experiences, so what your viewers see is an honest portrayal of your brand’s personality. Used correctly, it can be a very effective tool.
What advice would you give to an organization that is behind the curve when it comes to social?
JH: Bite the bullet and make it a priority, because social media is not going away. Whether that means hiring a firm like Front Burner Social, adding it to a marketing-savvy manager’s responsibilities, or taking the time to learn it yourself - you have to do something. And it has to be strategic. When people are looking for more information about your brand, or just looking for a new spot to try this weekend, they are turning to social media to help make their decisions. Press hits come and go. It might feel nice to see a print ad for your restaurant in a local magazine, but who knows if anyone else actually saw it, let alone spent money at your restaurant as a result. Sure, those flyers you posted all over the neighborhood about your upcoming charity dinner might move a few tickets. But social media allows you to market to a wide network of engaged people on a daily basis. You have to invest the time and, yes, money to do it effectively and stay competitive.
LD: Learn more about it. You wouldn't buy an ingredient you knew nothing about and waste hours trying to figure out how to use it. You would research the ingredient and create a way to use it that best represents your brand, your style. You would cost it out, develop recipes that work, insist on feedback from trusted guests and employees, track it's sales. But that's just one ingredient, one dish, a few bites, and the only people that experience it are already sitting in your restaurant. Now, think about social media. What do you really know about it? Do you understand exactly how it functions? How it influences people and why? Do you care about the results of your posts and which ones perform better than others and why? Do you plan and strategize the content you are about to put out...you have thousands of followers about to see it. The biggest misconception is that social media is free. That's fake news. It doesn't work that way. If you really want to influence your customers and develop new customers there is a cost. For many, many, way too many years it was commonplace to spend real money on ad campaigns in magazines. Take the Improper Bostonian for example. I think it's like $2500 for a half page per month or something like that. The Improper is free to read, not to advertise. The same is true now for social media. Yes, it's free to use. But if you want to reach the people that will invest their time and money dining at your restaurant there is a cost. I would encourage restaurants to do a relatively painless exercise. Run an ad campaign. Throw $100 behind it. Do one for Facebook and one for Instagram since those are the two best networks to reach your base and they are the easiest to use and understand. Customize the ad to target your audience (by location, age, activities, other pages they follow, interests). Then look at the stats. In my experience the posts we throw a few dollars at perform at a higher level. We use the ad tool provided by these networks to promote specific campaigns and events happening at Tavern Road. We use them at a higher level to sell tickets to CREATE. You can't promote or sponsor every post, everyday. But social media is a daily responsibility and knowing how to finesse it to best represent your brand and your company is worth spending the time to it takes to do it right.
Speed Round (5 words or less):
Favorite celebratory cocktail?
LD: Wun Wun the Showstopper at Tavern Road. JH: Anything with bubbles!
Go To Social Network? (You)
LD: Instagram stories are ridiculously fun. JH: Snapchat, because it's fun!
Go To Social Network? (Client)
LD: Instagram, food porn is king. JH: Instagram, because it's visual.
What is your favorite dish to prepare at Tavern Road?
LD: Porchetta, it's magical! JH: Louis wouldn't let me near the kitchen.
LD: #doyourjob JH: #collaboration
Louis DiBiccari is an inspired local chef, entrepreneur and owner of Tavern Road. Jeannie Hannigan co-founded Front Burner Social with Louis and together they help their industry clients inspire consumers with great social.
About the interviewer:
Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally.
e: firstname.lastname@example.org or m: (617) 513-2668 or t: @markkeaney2pt0