Authentic food photography drives more restaurant visits

April 3, 2018 McKenzie Gregory

Learn how to harness the power of social images and UGC

Today's consumers aren't so convinced by your glossy, professional food photography. 

Why? Better phone cameras and the popularity of social platforms like Instagram mean we all have unprecedented access to photos from people's real-life dining experiences. This type of user-generated content (UGC) has become a force to be reckoned with in the restaurant industry. Did you know that across all ages, 55 percent of consumers trust UGC over other forms of marketing? Or that only 15% of people trust recommendations from brands, while a whopping 84% of people trust recommendations from people?

Capitalizing on user-generated food photography should be a no-brainer for the modern restauranteur. Developing a UGC discipline allows you to build a loyal following of brand advocates. It encourages engagement and produces a steady stream of incoming content, minimizing your own day-to-day workload. And, perhaps most importantly, it promotes authenticity: A diner is much more likely to trust a friend's photo of your menu item than the images they'll find on your website. 
 

Practical ways to use curate user-generated images

• Search existing posts by hashtag or location. You may already have a ton of ready-to-use UGC—you just haven’t found it yet! Search Instagram by location and any hashtags you think your customers may have used to reference your restaurant. If you find anything you like, ask the user for permission to repost it on social or feature their image in an email. More often than not, they’ll be thrilled about the recognition.
 

Nashville favorite The Grilled Cheeserie often reposts customers' photos. 
 

• Promote a hashtag to begin collecting content. If you want to begin curating content relevant to a specific campaign or menu item, develop a unique hashtag that customers can use to indicate their participation. Be clear about how you plan to use the content and promote the hashtag in key areas: on your website, in your emails, at your brick-and-mortar store, or through social media influencers. To encourage adoption, offer some sort of reward (a chance to win a gift card or a special dining experience, for instance) to those who participate. 

Choose social influencers over professional photographers. Rather than paying a professional food photographer to capture images of your menu items, contact influencers from the local food scene. At Venga's recent Hospitality Roundtable, St. Elmo Steak House shared this example: 

"We headhunt awesome Instagram content creators in the area. They use the equipment they already have to capture photos of our restaurants and menu items, and for every photo they send back to us or post themselves on social, we give them a gift card. It's significantly less expensive than a professional photo shoot, and we come away with authentic, high-quality photos from people with far more followers than us."
 

Instagram celebrity Doug the Pug often features restaurants in posts to his over 3 million followers. 


Why invest time and resources into social and UGC?

One of the biggest challenges that come with using social media or influencer marketing is difficulty proving ROI. There's no way to track the path to purchase from an Instagram post, so how can you show management what you're doing is working and providing value to the business?

1. Track your website analytics. Here's an example from Emma customer The Palm said, "For so long, our typical customer has been in the 45-65 age range. Since we've become active on social media and begun engaging with that audience, we can go into Google Analytics and see that we've attracted way more website visitors that belong to a younger demographic and expanded our audience significantly."

2. Develop a brand personality. These days, choosing a restaurant isn't just about price and menu items—with so many options available, diners need something more to attract their attention. By engaging with current and prospective customers on social, you begin to develop a unique brand personality that helps you stand apart from the competition. 

3. Get in front of more people and reduce ad spend. Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing channels you can utilize in the restaurant industry. Encouraging your customers to share their experiences with their own networks means you'll get your name in front of more people without having to pay for it through social or display advertising. 

 


 

Hungry for more restaurant-focused content? Check out our guide, "8 restaurant emails to inspire your marketing.

About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is the content marketing manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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