To get the most out of social media your venue needs one digital voice. Julie Sheppard takes a look at a training programme that's designed to help staff work together
Cute videos of kittens and pics of celebs after bad plastic surgery. We’ve all spent hours looking at them on Twitter and Facebook. But can you harness the power of the greatest time-waster known to man (the internet) to make a real difference to your business?
Every on-trade venue needs an online presence to survive in today’s digital age, and knowing what types of content work for your customers is arguably as important as knowing what wine to recommend or how to mix a mean Bloody Mary. However, with digital platforms changing more regularly than David Beckham’s hairstyle and customers becoming increasingly savvy, finding ways to manage your digital offer and convert it into cold hard cash is a growing necessity.
One company that decided to address these issues is Novus Leisure, which operates 46 sites across the UK, including London wine bar chain Balls Brothers and high-volume city bar group TigerTiger, plus a portfolio of premium ‘bar & kitchen’ sites and late-night bars. With such a diverse range of venues, it’s important that the social media offering at each one speaks directly to its audience and relates to their specific needs and interests.
According to Ollie Taylor, digital development manager at Novus, the best way to achieve this is to give everyone who works in the venues a chance to be involved in running the various social channels by offering structured training in a day or half-day courses.
‘We want to give everyone confidence, because especially with social media, people think that you have to be a certain way or be really good at writing to do it well,’ explains Taylor. ‘There’s a fear factor,’ adds the group’s marketing manager, Ross Parkes. ‘Everybody is on Facebook and no-one really questions their own ability to use it, but the moment you give them the account for whatever bar it is [they work at] or ask them to post from a venue, it becomes very sales-y or just a bit corporate and they end up either overdoing it or not structuring the posts very well.’
Nuts and bolts
Taylor and his team devised a training scheme called Digital Rockstars, which has a very clear aim. ‘Ultimately we want digital and social media to drive sales – that is the end goal,’ he explains. So the course begins by looking at the current sales for group bookings and how the current website is performing.
‘We start with conversion,’ explains Taylor. ‘We show staff the traffic that’s going through their website and how they are currently turning those customers into actual bookings. For example, they might have 20 leads come through and they’ll convert five of them. When we show them that conversion rate a little light switches on in their heads. I say: “This is the hottest part of your business, because you should be converting 75% of them.”‘
Having provided this context, the next step is to think about content marketing and the control the staff have over their website. ‘We look at the most popular web pages and at the analytics. The popular pages will always be the ‘What’s On?’ and the galleries – and those pages are under the venues’ control,’ explains Taylor.
We want to give everyone confidence. With social media, people think that you have to be a certain way to do it well
‘So we say: “Look, you guys are selling parties… Our website should portray what you’re doing and you have the ability to really showcase that with images, with great events.” The content of the website is going to drive people to visit and ultimately convert them into a sale.’
At this point the staff are encouraged to analyse their own websites and pinpoint what’s good content and what isn’t working. ‘There’s a practical element – we don’t want to just preach to them,’ explains Taylor. ‘I give out an audit sheet and the idea is to actually be critical of the website and how you’d improve it. We share ideas about how we could improve conversion, so at the end there’s going to be a list of actions – for the venue, the marketing manager, the digital team. Otherwise you walk away from the session and it was all great, but what’s changed?’
For Taylor the training scheme is about making changes that improve the business, but also empowering the staff to make those changes themselves so that they feel a sense of ownership over digital content. Social media is a key element of this. ‘I show them what social media is and how it’s important, and explain that as a business you don’t really have a choice whether you do it – it’s how well you do it,’ adds Taylor.
The key social media channels for Novus Leisure are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. ‘We do a lot of corporate bookings, so LinkedIn is becoming more and more important to our venues’ sales teams,’ explains Parkes. ‘A venue would have local businesses that might come regularly, book events or functions, after-work drinks, so LinkedIn is the online social media platform that they use to build up those relationships.’
What content works best? ‘Ultimately it’s about a perfect mix of different types of content,’ explains Taylor. ‘We do competitions, share videos, use a bit of humour, drop on some sort of crazes, be sales-y. You’re not going to get engagement if you’re just sales-y, and you’re not going to get the sales if you’re just humorous,’ he adds.
Examples of successful content include Twitter posts commenting on matches during last year’s Rugby World Cup by @TigerCardiff: one image of Prince Harry looking at Prince William after Wales won a game had 14,000 shares, over 1,000 comments and reached two million people. The Facebook page for TigerTiger Croydon, which has almost 24,000 likes, includes funny animal videos, pictures of its glammed-up guests partying, and listings for upcoming events.
‘Facebook has a complex algorithm that rewards you for getting engagement,’ explains Taylor. ‘Humour is key to that; that’s what Facebook is about now. Look at the news and current affairs and humour.’
Facebook has a complex algorithm that rewards you for getting engagement. Humour is key to that: that's what Facebook is about now
The results of the training scheme, which was introduced at the start of 2015, have been immediately noticeable. Numbers of followers across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have increased, meaning web traffic has also risen but importantly, sales have improved too.
‘As soon as we do the course in one venue, we see an increase in the conversion from leads to booking there – usually around a 10% increase,’ says Taylor.
The team put a particular focus on Christmas bookings in 2015 to compare year-on-year results. ‘Christmas was our biggest period in 2014 with 30% growth in digital sales, but in 2015 we saw 60% growth, which proves that digital sales are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our model, and the focus of the business,’ says Parkes.
Going ahead, Taylor hopes the Digital Rockstars training will allow venues to identify their own ‘social champions’ – the staff who have a real flair for Twitter or can take great pictures for Instagram – who will give each venue its distinctive voice. Finding that voice is the first stage in building that crucial community of followers. Taylor sums it up: ‘At the end of the day, selling to someone who wants to hear from you is more effective than selling to strangers who don’t.’
In large venues give all staff a chance to be involved in social media
If you’re a small venue, single out a ‘social champion’ to drive digital content forward
A mix of content in any platform is key: humour, special offers, images, etc
Interact with followers by ‘liking’ their posts and asking them questions; don’t just sell them things
Use different content to appeal to users of different social platforms
Stay topical with pop culture references and posts that refer to current affairs
Remember to monitor feedback sites such as TripAdvisor and respond to comments