In August of last year, an anonymous Craigslist post went viral on news outlets like the Washington Post, Consumerist, The Guardian, and the BBC. The post was ostensibly written by the owner of a popular restaurant in New York City, who was baffled by a recent onslaught of negative reviews and complaints of slow service. He hired a firm to analyze the customer and staff movement in the restaurant, and dug up some old surveillance tapes from 2004—when reviews were excellent and service was quick—to see what had changed. The results were explained at length in the Craigslist post, but it all came down to one damning factor: customer smartphone use, particularly on social media. Apparently, a decade ago customers talked with one another, enjoyed their meals, and were generally more satisfied and grateful; today, they whip out their iPhones before they even open the menu, and spend so much time taking photos of their meals that the food gets cold. Overall, the writer claims that smartphone use added 50 minutes to the average table time; all the customer complaints were due to their own selfish social media addiction.
Like any good chain email fodder, the post combined a realistic scenario and exaggerated preaching about the ruinous state of today’s youth. It definitely struck a chord, but here’s the thing: even if the post were true (and it isn’t), banning social media use by customers may not improve their experiences—or your reputation as a business. If you run a really fabulous tour, or pride yourself on your rental company, then there’s no better way to get free press than letting your customers tell Twitter or Facebook all about their experience.
Engage, Encourage, Enjoy
Statista compiled the results of a survey which asked millennials (people born after 1982 or so) why they accessed Twitter during events—and 71% said that tweeting about it made it more fun. For businesses that cater to a young adult or tech-savvy demographic, that’s a pretty significant fact! Good social media marketing involves positively engaging with your customer base, and business owners can prompt a lengthier online conversation by creating hashtags, encouraging photo tagging and sharing, and inviting their customers to document their exploits. Live social media documentation turns individual experiences into collective ones, and helps spread the word about your business.
The idea is no longer as far-fetched as it may seem. A large number of concert halls and fine arts centers have created “Tweet Seats”, a section reserved for people who want to live-tweet the performances without bothering fellow attendees. It’s a unique adaptation to the social media age, and a rather clever approach to attract younger, tech-savvy audiences to the arts. Contrary to the Craigslist eatery’s woes, many restaurants are encouraging their patrons to snap photos and share them, even taking the proactive step of creating hashtags so they can see the results. 57% of millennials share fun activities on Twitter, and their narrative is spreading the word about your business in a personable, trustworthy way. While encouraging live social sharing may not work for every business—it may not be entirely appropriate during a whitewater rafting excursion, or a firing range—many businesses in the rental, accommodation, and tour industries could get the conversation rolling and welcome Twitter addicts and Facebook fiends as the loyal customers that they are.