I’ll be honest with you; I don’t like social media.
Let me rephrase that. I don’t like parts of social media.
Okay, let me have one last run at this: there are some parts of social media that are good.
When it’s used well, social media has the clichéd ability to unite us all in a way that would be harmonious, and happy, and beneficial to humankind. But therein lies the problem: humankind.
The fact is that we humans can’t be trusted with something so far-reaching and accessible as social media. Our nature dictates that, sooner or later, we’ll ruin it when our frustrations inevitably boil over and things will turn nasty real quick.
But it’s also such a fundamental part of our society these days that we can’t quit it, even if we wanted to.
Indeed, social media is the digital manifestation of human’s desire to create networks; a journey that spans back to Ancient Rome and it’s newfangled roads.
Any attempt to shun it would be disastrous.
So, how does this all tie into hospitality? Glad you asked.
You see, back in the day there was this thing called ‘word of mouth’, where the public would give their opinions on a cafe, restaurant, or bar, to their friends and families, and then their opinion would hold sway over that venue’s fortunes within that limited circle.
If someone had a bad experience, the damage would be smaller than it would be today, because only a handful of people would hear about it. It was a case of not liking somewhere, telling your mates, and simply not going there again.
Positive word of mouth is still a much-coveted, almost mythical commodity for a venue to have. You can’t manufacture it, and it doesn’t really fit into any marketing strategies. You can only achieve it by giving your customers an experience so far above their idea of ‘good’ that they have to tell anybody who’ll listen how good it was. To this day, the power of human-to-human interaction like this proves to be a much more powerful endorsement than a thousand Google reviews.
Which brings me to what I consider the worst of the social medias, and it’s something that a lot of people wouldn’t even consider social media at all: Google reviews.
If there is a hell, it’s Google reviews.
I struggle to think of anywhere else so loosely moderated, so filled with knee jerk reaction, and inaccuracy. It is the go-to destination for people who feel scorned, threatened, or just plain ignored.
I’ve had competitors leave 1 star ratings for my cafe with no review more times than I can remember. I’ve had customers leave 1 star reviews because they were only allowed to order food on my menu (I know, such a crazy concept, right?).
And if you say or do something that could be viewed as controversial? Forget about it.
I’ve seen mate’s places get dragged on Google after they’ve been misquoted in the press, or a disgruntled employee has levelled an attack on them (via social media, of course). Suddenly, their award winning, popular, and borderline institutional venue is public enemy #1.
A barrage of 1 star reviews that have nothing to do with the venue itself come flooding in, and Google just lets it happen. No screening for relevance. No review process before it’s published. Nothing. It’s a digital cesspool.
It works the other way too.
Well meaning friends of mine have left 5 star reviews for my cafe without ever coming in. You reconcile this by telling yourself that it balances out the bitterness, and you sleep better in your bed of lies.
I once asked Google if they could take my venue off their listings because some of the reviews (honestly, it was a small minority) were causing me some serious mental damage. I took the opportunity to remind them I didn’t actually agree to have my venue listed in the first place. They got back to me, (a shock in itself) and declined (not so much of a shock there).
The only thing I could do was turn off all notifications from them so I at least didn’t get abuse delivered directly to my inbox every time someone felt the need to, and then never Google my cafe ever again.
Now, seeing as this is a post about social media, I guess we should talk a little about the O.G.: Facebook.
This is a place where the nastiness gets dialled up to 11.
You see, unless you disable them, Facebook gives the general public the chance to comment on anything they like. And I don’t know if you’ve been in a Facebook comment thread recently, but they have the incredible ability to get quite spicy.
All it takes is 1 person having a bad day to fire off a shot, and the ugliness takes off like Bezos/Elon/Branson (delete billionaire as applicable).
Suddenly, a post about food, or latte art becomes a discussion pit for vaccines, political allegiances, or just plain old, schoolyard name calling.
If Google is a digital cesspool, then Facebook is a digital soapbox.
For a time it seemed that the only person with anything nice to say was my mum who’d comment “looks lovely son💗” on every post, at every place I worked. Please know that if you ever wrote something nasty in my cafe’s comments, my mum did see it, although she doesn’t really hold grudges, so hopefully the shame alone will get you.
You do, at least, have the ability to moderate, but it can be exhausting just how impressively consistent these comment threads can be when all you wanted to do was show everybody how pretty your food looks.
Speaking of pretty food, Instagram’s quite good for that.
An app where you can post endless pictures/videos of your menu, with filters and music, and little gif stickers? Surely this can’t be harnessed for evil? Surely?
It can, guys. It can, and I’m so sorry.
I’ve had people post photos of me with less than flattering captions about their opinions on me, and then TAG ME IN THE PHOTO! I mean, hats off to them for the straight up audaciousness, but come on.
And I’ll be the first to admit that towards the end of my tenure ‘beyond the pass’ (wink), I became a little curt, but I never attacked anyone, or meant any harm.
It’s for this reason that I loathe having my photo taken to this day.
But Instagram can be a very powerful marketing tool in the modern age for a venue. You can entice people with something they don’t even have to read, absolute gold dust in a society where attention spans are dwindling.
Venues have based their entire business around this, and have made a killing in doing so. The food doesn’t even have to taste good, but if it looks like a Disney On Ice production slapped onto a K-Mart plate, it can get enough likes and shares to attract business.
So too have people. What? You think that guy standing on your chairs to take a straight down shot of his breakfast with a $5000 camera does that for free? He does not. If you’ve got 1000 followers, you can potentially get paid, and you can bet that guy has a lot more than that.
And this is how social media has made itself such a crucial part of a modern day venue. It’s so far reaching and accessible that when it works, it has the potential to make your business blow up in ways the old word-of-mouth never could.
And sure, with every successful post comes the danger of irking some crazy, hunched over their phones, but it seems like we’re all just cool with that. Just try to remember that behind every venue’s social media account is an actual person who’s given everything they have for this business, or at the very least, their mum who’s reading every word you’re writing about their baby and could be adding your name to a list.
Social media, hey? A most necessary of evils.
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