I spent three days at Nerd Mecca, otherwise known as the South by Southwest Interactive Conference (SxSWi). It was three days filled with learning, schmoozing, food truck nomming, QR code scanning, band listening and walking, walking, walking.
It’s a given that SxSWi is filled with great information about what’s next in social media, marketing and technology, but I also managed to find some really excellent panels on the future of food media, social marketing and their ongoing intersection.
So, fellow restaurant marketers and social media lovers, if you weren’t fortunate enough to attend SxSWi this year (or maybe you’re just more sane than I), let me impart to you some of the lessons I took away from the awesome presentations I saw.
1. Crowds or Communities: What are you building through your marketing?
The very first presentation I watched was given by Thomas Knoll. Knoll walked the audience through the differences between crowds and communities. One example that resonated with me as a restaurant marketer was this: “Crowds want benefits; communities want to belong.” That thought reminded me of a blog post I wrote a while back about how we as restaurant marketers can avoid creating entitled customers. After listening to this presentation, I truly believe as restaurant marketers we need to be more creative in interacting with our social networks so they feel like they are a part of our parade versus hanging out on the sidelines waiting for a few kernels of candy.
2. Dining in the Digital Age: This is happening. Get used to it.
This was, by far, one of my favorite presentations of the entire conference. The panel featured Brian Canlis of the incredible Canlis Restaurant in Seattle, as well as representatives from Urbanspoon, Facebook and Groupon. This group reminded me of how important it is to consider all of the potential social media touch points throughout a guest’s visit: before, during, and after the meal. At Canlis, Brian has his “phone girl” (his words, not mine) monitoring Twitter for realtime mentions of the restaurant. Brian says this gives him an opportunity to talk to guests about their dining experiences. This kind of interaction could potentially alarm a guest, but it certainly beats reading a person’s complaint via Yelp days later. What do you think of this tactic? Would you recommend it?
3. Location is evolving
There were lots of different presentations centered around a single theme: location based services. Specifically, how to use it, how to optimize it, and how it’s going improve in the future. It seems that services like FourSquare and Gowalla are seeking to become more predictive in how they anticipate what users like and where they will visit, potentially making suggestions to users on where to dine or shop. This could be a very powerful tool for restauranteurs.
4. One Groupon does not fit all.
It’s hard to ignore the $15 billion elephant in the room, so naturally lots of conference discussions turned toward Groupon. There doesn’t seem to be a general consensus yet on whether or not Groupon is a godsend or the devil incarnate, but after listening to several of the company’s representatives I realized this: Groupon’s model is NOT inclined to handle the marketing needs of fine dining restaurants, or, in other words, restaurants with high food costs and a customer base that isn’t motivated by discounts. And at SXSW, for the first time ever, Groupon subtly admitted that. I’m interested to see how this Goliath will adjust to meet the demands of fine dining.
5. And the biggest lesson I learned at SXSWi: “Hospitality is a relationship, not a marketing strategy.” Quoted by Brian Canlis. How easy this is for us to forget in the restaurant biz, but how true!
Were any of you at SXSWi? If so, I’m sorry I missed you. What did you learn?