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Social media: The new frontier in marketing local businesses

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Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 6:00 pm

As Ahwatukee Foothills restaurant owners have come to learn, social media is the new frontier for marketing. If used correctly, popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be interactive and innovative tools for attracting customers.

“I know there’s a lot of restaurants that just Tweet their deals and that’s it,” said Ashley Allen, social media wrangler for Rustler’s Rooste in Ahwatukee. “They don’t read other people’s Tweets or anything — they’re just there. I take the time to read people’s Tweets, recommend other restaurants if we’re not open, and try to be a help to our guests.”

Rustler’s Rooste has been using social media to promote the restaurant for about two years. Allen originally developed a Facebook page solely for employees, but opened it to the public after receiving multiple friend requests and gauging customer interest.

Rustler’s currently offers a free ice cream sundae when customers “check-in” with Facebook, or a free Rustler’s Koozie when using Four Square.

Allen says the restaurant was originally just a destination restaurant for birthdays and holidays, but has since been getting repeat business that they never had before.

“We started getting more regulars that are coming in more often,” she said. “When they’re going to come in, they just Tweet me and they’ll get VIP service. It makes them feel like they have someone that they know at the restaurant, which makes them have a great time.”

For a restaurant like My Wine Cellar that has been around for years, and already has a loyal clientele, owner Zoya Vora-Shah says that social media has helped attract a whole new crowd to her Ahwatukee wine bar.

“We have our customer base that we are very fortunate to have because we’ve been around for a long time,” Vora-Shah said. “Also, we do see that the younger crowd is coming in because of the social media, whether it be Facebook or Twitter or Yelp.”

She uses multiple forms of social media to help promote the many classes and events that take place at My Wine Cellar. Vora-Shah also offers a free glass of wine to customers who “check-in” using Four Square.

When asked if she would consider using sites like Groupon or LivingSocial to further attract customers, she assures that there is no real need.

“My business as it is is doing well, so I don’t have problems getting people here,” Vora-Shah said. “My business is very niche — it’s for people that like wine and craft beers, so I would rather concentrate on those types of people than just having a blanket LivingSocial kind of thing.”

Although promotional giveaways can be a gamble, it proved to be a successful venture for Barro’s Pizza, which has one of its 31 locations in Ahwatukee.

With the help of the Zion and Zion marketing agency in Tempe, Barro’s recently concluded a promotion that entitled people who “liked” their Facebook page to a coupon for a free slice of pizza.

The giveaway was an instant success — going from a mere 100 “likes” to more than 1,200 in five days. Ashley Oakes, a PR and social media strategist for Zion and Zion, helped implement the marketing scheme and thinks it will be a new direction for Barro’s.

“They already got all their fans, so now they’re going to be able to retain them by giving them more messages,” she said. “I think they’re very pleased with what has gone on. There’s been a lot more interaction on the page and a lot of good feedback from customers. It’s introducing their new customers to them.”

Oakes believes that it’s important for businesses to develop a mobile version of their website for customers to use, along with keeping their sites up-to-date with pictures, menus and important information.

“Having everything accessible to their customers and their potential customers: that’s what’s going to make the conversion rate of them making a sale higher,” Oakes said. “Restaurants should be (involved in social media) whether they have an agency or not. They should be online using those free outlets to get more new customers because it’s just something that everybody’s on. If they’re not there, nobody’s going to know about them.”

She also stresses that regularly checking in on social media websites such as Yelp and Urban Spoon is crucial for restaurant owners, even if the customer reviews may be less than flattering.

“If you’re not responding and helping guide that conversation, it can be a negative thing,” Oakes said. “It just becomes a blank wall or canvas for people to talk. Make sure you’re keeping up with the review marketing because its always important to show that you care, you’re sorry, and that you want to make things right.”

• Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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