Chris from Sterling Cross Communications was recently quoted in the Star Tribune.
Crowdsourced reviews can put local restaurateurs on the defensive
- Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
- Updated: July 6, 2013 – 2:11 PM
Serving great food is only half the battle. Now local restaurants have to win over DIY reviewers on social media sites.
Every month, the managers of Parasole Restaurant Group’s 10 restaurants meet with their bosses. At the outset, they get a report card — not for sales or profits, but an algorithm-based assessment of how their operations are faring on social media. It includes a letter grade.
“I can guarantee you,” said Kip Clayton, Parasole’s vice president of marketing, “you don’t want to have an F.”
So on top of all their other responsibilities — monitoring food prep, making sure the wine list is up to date and that there’s enough Diet Coke syrup on hand — the folks at the helm of Manny’s, Salut, Burger Jones and other Parasole holdings listen and react to every tweet, post and comment they get online.
Especially on Yelp, which has supplanted not only Zagat but the Yellow Pages as the go-to restaurant guide. Since it was introduced less than a decade ago, the user ratings site has grown to 102 million unique visitors per month, with about 20 percent of its traffic going to restaurant pages.
The popularity of Yelp, along with Urban Spoon, Foursquare, Open Table and others, has created a tightrope walk for restaurateurs: They can now engage with their customers 24/7, but they have very little control over the conversation. In a business that lives and dies by reputation, they have to use caution when defending themselves against regular attacks.
User favorites ranging from Minneapolis’ Bar La Grassa and Tilia to St. Paul’s The Nook have hundreds of Yelp reviews apiece. And while those restaurants all have earned 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, some of the critiques are soaked in the snarky salvos so prevalent on the Internet.
“I wish there was a way to say ‘Let’s be decent, folks,’ ” said Stewart Woodman, chef and owner of Heidi’s in Minneapolis. “You really have to have thick skin in this business.”
He’s right, said Christopher Lower, social media director at Sterling Cross Communication. In fact, Lower compares Yelp to “TMZ [because] people go there for the trashy comments.”
Still, he considers Yelp and other such sites “a necessary evil for restaurants,” and he says the biggest challenge for restaurants is “learning how to deliver customer service online.”
A matter of engagement
Many local restaurateurs have already figured out that ignoring the DIY reviews is not an option.
“Our whole philosophy on social media is that if you’re a bar or restaurant, the world is talking about you day and night,” said Clayton. “You can listen, or you can be stupid and ignore it — and it comes back to haunt you.”
While some restaurants have hired consultants to find every mention of them on the Internet, others try to do it themselves.
Frederico Navarro, owner of George & the Dragon, said he and wife, Stacy, reach out to every Yelp commenter.
“If a guest takes the time to give us feedback, we will always take the time to send them a message back,” he said via (of course) e-mail. “We try to use Yelp to connect with our guests and either thank them for coming in or let them know that their feedback is being heard and we would see what we could do to improve.”
Avid Yelp user Mahesh Kothamangalam got that kind of personal response. The Roseville resident recently wrote a favorable review of a restaurant he had visited. In the review, however, he mentioned that the tea was a little cold. “And the owner actually apologized and said the next tea’s on him,” said Kothamangalam.
But what’s happening online may have to take a back seat to what’s happening in the kitchen.
Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of Blue Plate Restaurant Co., said she and her managers monitor as many sites as they can, including Yelp, Urban Spoon, Instagram and their own eClub database. She added that at Blue Plate, which owns seven restaurants including Edina Grill and Three Squares, “we balance that with what’s most important … and that is who is sitting at our tables right now.”
Sorting through reviews
Woodman has had his share of run-ins online, including an anti-Semitic post on Yelp that he ultimately enlisted the Anti-Defamation League to have removed. And he admits that his wife and business partner, Heidi, has “had to stop me” from responding in kind to nasty comments on Yelp. But he’s devised a way to make the site work for him.
“We’re kind of gleaning it, to learn how to be better, and also to build some relationships,” he said.
Users, too, have to learn how best to use Yelp.
Because it’s so popular, sorting through all the reviews can be daunting. That’s why Annie D’Souza, the site’s Twin Cities community manager, said she and other experienced Yelpers study the reviewers.
“I look at how much they’ve written, do they have a photo. I definitely follow a few people, some personal and others that I just trust,” she said. “We’re building a community of users.”
D’Souza downplays the effect a negative review can have, in part because of that community.
“While business owners tend to fixate on a less-than-glowing review, consumers look at the overall rating and read a number of reviews before making a decision.”
In the end, though, a pre-Internet business platitude rules: The customer is always right.
“When it comes down to engaging the guest,” Clayton said, “it’s better to apologize rather than get in an online argument. You’re going to lose that one every time.”
Bill Ward • 612-673-764
Social media guru Christopher Lower , director of marketing and public relations for Sterling Cross Communications, shared some tips for local executives who are thinking about joining Twitter.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Twitter isn’t relevant to your business or industry.
- If you’re going to embark on it, make a commitment to do it on a regular basis.
(It doesn’t have to be every day.)
- Establish yourself as an industry expert by providing useful resources.
- Be authentic and approachable.
- Make sure your message matches your brand.
- Monitor what people are saying about you and your company.
Chris Lower has been a good friend for a number of years now. A former football player, happily married, three beautiful children and wonderfully successful as the director of marketing, PR and social media for Minneapolis-based Sterling Cross Communications (he’s also co-owner). For as long as I’ve known him he’s been a high-energy, “all systems go” kind of guy.
And then in 2011, one teeny thing got in the way of that: His heart.
Hearts have a funny way of ruling our lives… literally. And we like to use ”heart” in any number of phrases: From the heart, heavy heart, with all my heart, know it by heart… but at the head of the food chain before we talk about it or write about it, the heart needs to work.
Last year, Chris’s nearly stopped working. That’s where our discussion began.
A local technology writer from one of the daily newspapers in the Twin Cities put a call out to all his Pintrest followers as to why they use this social media platform. I’m thrilled to be included in his blog that was the background for the article that ran on the front page of the Sunday paper (see previous post).
About fell off my chair when I saw my headshot in his blog – it is a very odd feeling to be included in the story after being behind the story for so many years!
(Note: This post is part of extensive Pinterest coverage this weekend. I wrote a Tech Test Drive column about it, along with a feature story about local Pinterest users. I also created a Pinterest board showcasing items pinned by the people quoted in my article.)
It took me a while to “get” Pinterest.
I was well aware of its runaway popularity but, as with many up-and-coming social networks, I was unable to see its appeal or relevance to my own existence.
I had set up an account and amassed a list of Pinterest friends, though, so I reached out to them with a question (not exactly in these words): “So what the frack is the deal here?”
Several of them responded via e-mail with lengthy and spellbinding analyses that helped me grasp the awesomeness that is Pinterest. Since then, a switch has flipped in my cerebral cortex and I’m pinning like a crazy person.
So if you’re confused about or skeptical of Pinterest, read on. These users might make you a believer.
Note that the name of each person is hyperlinked to his or her Pinterest account, while the description of each person links to his or her home, professional or bio page.
1) The ability to go in, even for just a few minutes, and scan to see what people are pinning, and find new images that might interest me. A friend described it as “visual snacking.” I think that sums it up well.
2) The creative freedom. I love how you can create and curate boards for just about anything. I have one for Men of PR fashion. Another for Bad Ass Shoes. Yes another labeled “Oh, the Places I’ll Go” (travel destinations)
What I don’t like: It’s currently tough to identify other users you might want to follow. There have been some lists published by Pinterest power users lately, but the tool needs to make this easier.
I’m on for three main reasons:
1) I like the beauty shots of faraway lands and beautiful sunsets. By taking a few minutes out of my day to surf the Pinterest boards, I can have a mini-retreat to some wonderful far way place as a goal of where we will travel, or a reminder of places visited in the past.
2) I like some of the kid-friendly tips and food ideas. I saw a Mater (as in the movie “Cars,” a movie my 3-year-old son has seen a million times) sandwich face that I will attempt to replicate this weekend. I found some fruit and veggie tips that will get some play soon in our kitchen.
3) Lastly, I love some of the quotes. Though Twitter and Facebook is lousy with people re-quoting famous people or passing along funny thoughts. But, being a visual person, sometimes the impact of the thought/notion is realized in the font or visual impact of how it’s presented. I take 5-minute breaks throughout the day to look at Pinterest as a breath of fresh air or to have a laugh.
At the end of the day, my husband and our 9-year-old daughter look at things for his “Star Wars” board or other funny visuals. Luckily, by controlling the pinners we follow, we can have a relatively G-rated experience, something that is becoming harder to do elsewhere.
Also – visually – I see Pinterest as the digital file of all the cool magazine pictures I used to rip out and save for “one day.” Now its all organized in one spot that I can access any time.
As an interesting side effect, it is a little voyeuristic to see the style choices and trends that are out there. I’m learning more about my 19-year-old niece’s (who lives in Washington DC and I only get to see once a year) taste and style preference in a quick/easy way! She loves silver rings as much as I do – all those gifts I’ve given to her have paid off!
My husband, Christopher, blogged about Pinterest here.
I like what I learn about my friend’s interests. Conversely, I don’t like that it’s not very intuitive to turn off specific boards (I have no need to see a friend’s vast collection of bird pictures).
I like that I can find crafty ideas without having to go to a million craft-mom blogs. I have a million good ideas now. My friend Mandy often creates or cooks off of Pinterest and I would like to do more.
I like being able to search for ideas, or images, or recipes, etc.
I worry about pinning things up, and wondering if they are “safe” and “stored.” I worry I will have link loss later.
I am interested in how people are starting to use it beyond the obvious. I like seeing “Restaurants to Try” and “Books to Read” boards, and I am interested in how it is becoming a visual notebook.
In terms of professional vs. private, do my clients really need to see all my chocolate recipes? That will take some management.
1) Beautiful interface; good for discovery 2) Facebook integration 3) Simple settings (love those cool sliders) 4) Pin-it button for browsers and websites 5) Posting process is very simple
1) The default notifications; too much bacn 2) The invite system to get into beta; not everyone I know is on it yet. 3) Would like to see ratings integrated since the best application for the service are products.
I think the success of Pinterest has mostly to do with how easy it is to post content, its beautiful design and its deep Facebook integration. Their viral spread via a controlled beta was also smart but that approach is beginning to look old as the service gets more popular.
I didn’t “get it” at first but the more I use it, the more I see applications for it (like wine reviews).
I actually found out about Pinterest a year ago from an intern while the site was mostly crafts, and I asked for an invite but never received one. I was able to join about six months ago and have been in love ever since. Here’s why it’s so Pinteresting:
1) Visually stimulating: even if you have no intention of planning a wedding, making a new recipe, or have any interest in online shopping or crafting, scrolling through Pinterest is a delightful way to spend time online.
2) Creatively invigorating: I often check Pinterest in the evenings to get outfit ideas for the next day, or on weekends for decorating ideas for my house. I’ve executed many of those ideas. I hate cooking and am horrible at it, but I spent a whole Saturday making soup recipes I found on Pinterest.
3) New resources: one of the big things I love about Pinterest is that the pins are connected to their source so I’m able to buy, buy, buy, find new blogs, read news stories, etc.
4) Handy list: I use a pinboard to keep track of all of things I find online that I want to buy instead of having to create multiple bookmarks, notes, etc.
I think one of the fascinating things about what makes Pinterest interesting compared to a lot of other competing services is that it’s centered around a basic principle: what you and your friends want.
I think it creates a unique ecosystem online when all you’re seeing are the collective desires of your friends and then share the ones you desire too. It’s addictive for some.
At the Heavy Table, we noticed an uptick of activity on Pinterest linking to our content out of the blue. We have a lot of tasty things on our site as well as recipes, and Pinterest is a natural place for people to share those things they want to eat or try in the kitchen.
We decided to have a presence on Pinterest ourselves, lead by one of our photographers (who is also addicted to the service herself).
On our board, we repin content of ours as well as pinning content from other sources as it relates to food and beverage in the Upper Midwest.
We don’t see a ton of traffic to our site from Pinterest yet, but we are certainly noticing an upward trend so we’re keeping our eye on it closely.
Pinterest is a great example of works well in digital/social technologies: do one thing, but do it really well.
It’s predecessors are social networks that manage to carve out their niches and get a little bit of sunlight despite Facebook’s massive shadow: Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare to name a few. They don’t try to be the swiss-army knife of social networks (*cough* Google+), and they won’t win at that game any time soon because nobody is asking for another Facebook.
But Pinterest saw their opportunity in that A) people love sharing great content, and B) a strong visual is a much more powerful driver than text (otherwise we would all still be using De.licio.us and wouldn’t need Pinterest to share and discover new content).
They’ve also brilliantly translated something very analogue (a cork-board) into a digital format. A cork board where you can post inspiration, and what’s even better: you can invite friends to collaborate on your board which is going to be great for brands (we’re currently working on this for space150′s own social media).
Designers at space150 tell me they have been into Pinterest for well over a year (back when it was way too small to show up on comScore or Google’s radar). At that time it seemed to be a little more of a tool for professional designers, photographers, or other creative folks (much like ffffound.com still is today).
But Pinterest has now moved way past professional creatives, into regular Joes (or more accurately: Janes) who just love to be inspired. My wife doesn’t work in a creative field at all, but she got into Pinterest long before I did.
One thing that may be leading to more adoption is the growth of people sharing about their “Pinterest projects” or “Pinterest recipes” which simply means a project or a recipe that was inspired by something they found on Pinterest. This is funny to me…because no one has ever talked about Google projects, or Facebook projects, but certainly those two sites have been used to discover new things to to create around the house.
I really enjoy Pinterest. It is like a guilty pleasure. If I have a few minutes to kill, I check Pinterest for fun recipes or interesting decorating ideas. I have already utilized some ideas. We rearranged our back closet to better accommodate my kids’ hockey gear. I have made many delicious recipes from it. I often surprise my kids at the bus stop with creative Pinterest snack ideas.
I think Pinterest makes you imagine the life you could have… the great meals you could make… the wonderful, organized house you could have…the amazing fashions you could be wearing…
It is like reading a magazine and instead of clipping recipes and cutting out interesting tidbits, you can pin it to your virtual bulletin board and refer back to it whenever you want…
When I am grocery shopping, I get on my phone and check the Pinterest recipes I have pinned to get ideas for meals…
I think my family is enjoying it because they are definitely benefiting from all of the ideas…
I think sometimes we all need a little inspiration … Pinterest is that inspiration. I feel energized when I can use an idea I find to make life easier or to make my family smile.
It is just a fun escape.
I was recently quoted in a story on Pintrest by the technology writer at Pioneer Press. Here is the story.
It was a thrill to be in the story instead of being behind it for once!
If you have an interest, you’ll find it on Pinterest
Becca Bijoch of Minneapolis hates to cook. No, she loathes it.
“I’m horrible at it,” she confesses.
But she recently spent a Saturday whipping up one soup recipe after another. Her inspiration? The Pinterest bulletin board site.
This popular social network lets users “pin” photos and videos they find online to the virtual equivalents of corkboards. Such pinning has become a passion for millions of Pinterest users, each of whom can create a variety of boards aligned with their interests, beliefs and goals.
Bijoch, for instance, had the goal of making soup.
So, to give herself a boost, she found a variety of recipes online and pinned a picture from each recipe to one of her boards. When she was ready to get cooking, she needed only to click one of the photos to pull up the recipe on its original cooking site, such as bettycrocker.com orskinnytaste.com or shape.com.
But Bijoch uses Pinterest for much more than learning to cook.
In the evening, she’ll roam fashion boards created by other users to get outfit ideas for the next day. On weekends, she explores home-decorating boards to get project ideas for her home.
She also pins items she plans to purchase soon. She loves that these visual bookmarks link back to the original shopping sites “so I’m able to buy, buy, buy.”
Even those who “have no intention of planning a wedding, making a recipe,
crafting or shipping” can enjoy Pinterest, Bijoch said. “It is visually stimulating. Scrolling through it is a delightful way to spend time online.”
The 2-year-old site has seen explosive growth, especially in recent months. It grew to more than 11.7 million unique monthly users as of January, according to the ComScore online-tracking service, and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
“Pinterest’s traffic charts aren’t hockey sticks,” said business-tracking firm RJMetrics, in a reference to slow growth that suddenly spikes to resemble a hockey stick on a chart. “They’re rocket ships.”
This growth is being driven largely by women, who are using the site far more than men, according to ComScore. Pinterest users are a devoted bunch, spending on average nearly 16 minutes per visit on the site, the firm said.
“Pinterest is a great example of what works well in digital and social: Do one thing, but do it really well,” said Craig Key, associate media director at Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency space150.
Why has Pinterest caught on? Key has a few theories.
“People love sharing great content,” he said. “A strong visual is more powerful than text. Pinterest brilliantly translates something analog, a corkboard, into a digital format. It’s a corkboard where you can invite friends to collaborate.”
Mary Lower of Maple Grove uses Pinterest to post photos of faraway places she’d like to visit with her husband, Christopher; to clip items from magazine sites the way she does with physical magazines; and to get child-friendly recipe ideas for her three kids.
This weekend, she said, she’ll try to make a sandwich that looks like the Tow Mater character from the movie “Cars.”
She’s even learning about the style preferences of her 19-year-old niece, who lives in Washington, D.C.
“She loves silver rings as much as I do,” Lower has discovered. “All those gifts I’ve given her have paid off.”
KSTP-TV news anchor Vineeta Sawkar gets scads of home-improvement ideas on Pinterest, including how to “rearrange our back closet to better accommodate my kids’ hockey gear.”
While at the supermarket, she’ll fire up the Pinterest app on her iPhone to get cooking inspiration. “I often surprise my kids at the bus stop with creative Pinterest snack ideas.”
Bethany Gladhill of St. Paul loves that she can “find crafty ideas without having to visit a million craft-mom sites. I have a million good ideas now.”
Gladhill, a consultant specializing in historic preservation, nonprofits and arts management, is even thinking about how Pinterest can add pizzazz to what she does on the job.
She is hardly alone. Pinterest’s popularity has prompted companies and organizations of all sorts to begin exploiting the social network as a visual way to spread their messages.
Brands on Pinterest range from the Gap and Whole Foods to the HGTV cable channel and the Mashable tech site.
Creative Kidstuff, the local chain of toy stores, was nudged onto Pinterest late last year by its Minneapolis-based public relations agency, Lola Red Public Relations.
Bijoch, who works on that Lola Red account when she isn’t at home cooking soup, said posting Creative Kidstuff gear on Pinterest “is driving traffic and sales to the website” while indirectly helping its Facebook and Twitter communities.
The firm now has a dozen boards ranging from “get crafty” and “too cute for words” to “Creative Kidstuff team favorites.”
The Twin Cities-based Heavy Table food site recently noticed “an uptick of activity on Pinterest linking to our content out of the blue,” said Aaron Landry, a site producer.
“We decided to have a presence on Pinterest, led by one of our photographers who is addicted to the service herself,” Landry said.
Though “we don’t see a ton of traffic to our site from Pinterest yet, we are certainly noticing an upward trend, so we’re keeping our eyes on it closely,” he said.
Key, of space150, said “Pinterest is on our radar, and that of every other marketer worth a shake.”
- What is it? Think of Pinterest as a bulletin board site with the virtual equivalents of corkboards for posting, organizing and sharing content you find online.
- How does it work? Create “boards” on the Pinterest site, and then “pin” interesting photos or videos to your boards from various websites. Think of it as visual bookmarking to save stuff you want to look at later. Items on a board typically link back to their sites of origin.
You can create multiple boards, each focused on a topic that interests you, and rearrange your boards however you like. You can also browse boards created by others. Once there, you can like items, comment on them and “repin” them to your boards.
Pinterest offers a directory organized by subject so you can zero in on boards you are bound to like. Once you find such boards, you can “follow” them to keep up with new items. You also can follow a Pinterest user and all of his or her boards.
- Why should you care? Because of Pinterest’s popularity, it’s a good bet people you know are on it. This is a new and novel way to interact with them.
Pinterest is also a good way to organize information – recipes, craft ideas, home-improvement strategies, books and movies to check out – for future reference.
- Where is it? Pinterest.com
This week’s Tech Test Drive column by Julio Ojeda-Zapata reviews Pinterest and another hot social network, Path. Find it at twincities.com/techtestdrive.
On his Your Tech Weblog, Julio yields the floor to local Pinterest and Path fanatics so they can explain in their own words why they like the social networks. Go to yourtechweblog.com.
What interesting things are local Pinterest users pinning? Julio visits the boards of people quoted in his Pinterest pieces today, and repins some of their gems. Go topinterest.com/ojezap.
I’m going to take some time over the July 4th weekend to come up with a better blogging strategy then posting every 4 months! Stay tuned :)
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