We Don't Want To Play: When Businesses Say "No" To Social Media Tools

This guest post was crafted by by B. Imei Hsu (@HipsForHire) after a recent experience with me.

Recently, I was hired to perform belly dance at a nice restaurant in Seattle. The hirer assured me the restaurant’s food was delicious, the previous show had good attendance and walk-in traffic, and the owner was on-board with having live entertainment at his establishment to increase his business. The week previous to the performance, I saw the hirer’s invitation to her community to patronize the business and advertise me as their dancer, and I also put a couple of “in kind” tweets and Facebook profile updates to let friends and fans know about this one-time performance slot.

Was it any surprise that a mid-size restaurant with excellent food and really nice staff and ownership was nearly empty on the night of my performance?

If I were a younger, less experienced dancer, I could beat myself up and say that people didn’t come because I wasn’t a “banner name” dancer. But restaurants around the city of Seattle with world-class and award-winning dancers have been crying about low attendance for months. Several venues even closed their businesses to live entertainment, claiming that the economy forced them to do so.

Chris came to see my show, cooed over the delicious food, and then attempted to give the hirer a few tips on how to help the owners enter the 21st century when it comes to promoting a restaurant. Considering that the restaurant is not new, we were both dumbfounded as to why this restaurant, and so many others we have encountered in the Seattle area, are resistant to using Social Media to build a consistent following of loyal patrons.

The three suggestions Chris gave to the hirer were:

  1. Get on Foursquare, and empower people to play for you. With Foursquare, the power of one satisfied customer reverberates through his or her community, creating more customers faster than you can get a coupon to their front door.
  2. Start a Twitter account for the restaurant, and create Tweetups that allow people to do what they love: eat great food and meet new people. I recently used Twtvite to create a one-time event involving world food and Tweetups, and thanks to friends and interest, we had a sizeable gathering for a last-minute idea.
  3. Start a Facebook Fanpage for the show with the name of the restaurant in the Fanpage title. You can add more aps as it grows, send out group ads, or attach a paid ad for special events. Better yet, you can target your audience to local people, so the fans represent people who are truly interested in your events and have a higher likelihood of attending.

These are straightforward suggestions. But as Chris was sharing this information, I couldn’t help but feel for the hirer. She’s in the same position I am in with other establishments, only I’m convinced that if these things were done, they’d stand a better chance of success than without it. As for this hirer, she declined the suggestions for her own reasons, but thanked us for them. As a friend, I support her autonomy, but frankly I still puzzle over what looks a sure-fire way to send customers looking elsewhere for a place to eat.

Ultimately, the problem does not lie with the hirers and schedulers of events at restaurants. It’s the owners who remain unconvinced. They have as yet to see why they should spend hours doing any of these actions foreign to their usual practices, or pay someone else to do it for them. As the “n00b of Social Media” still within her 365-1/4 days of her first year of immersion, I can tell you, it does feel like you’re learning a new language and culture. Anyone new to using these tools would be looking at investing hours of unpaid time learning the ropes, managing multiple accounts, and chasing important local connections before getting the kind of attention that translates into increased repeat business.

Compound that with the complexity and challenge of cultural gaps that exist when the restaurant carries workers, owners, and practices of another ethnic group and/or business ethos. If managers and owners are unfamiliar with digital advertisement and Social Media, the way it often shows up is a simple website that looks like it was designed by someone’s 11-year old son or daughter as a school project, or a static website that was purchased once and never updated since its inception.

The picture is not completely dismal. A few months ago, I was invited to a wine tasting event hosted by Seattle wine darling Barb (@SeattleWineGal). While Chris Pirillo tweeted some of the most unusual descriptions of wine on my left, Annie (@BlackPearlSea) of Black Pearl Restaurant (and resident Chinese proverb goddess on Twitter) introduced herself on my right. Finally, I met someone who is actually working with a restaurant to help them do what I fail to see so many others do. Annie could probably tell you a lot more of the industry from the inside, but it was encouraging to see someone do this successfully. Imagine my delight when she hosted a Black Pearl tweetup, with the likes of Seattle Wine Gal and Chris Pirillo at the same table. That’s powerful!

Another opportunity to start live entertainment in a restaurant has come across my radar? What do you think I’m going to do? If I’ve learned anything, I’m going to see who’s in charge of their Social Media and marketing. If they are resistant to using the tools that will get them noticed, I’m going to pass. My time is better spent with a business who is willing to play with the new rules. Besides, the bump on my forehead from thumping it against my desk in the previous scenarios doesn’t need any to be there anymore.

Can you think of other reasons why restaurants might not want to try Social Media tools to increase their business? Do you know of a business near you that you would be sad to see fold in an unstable economy? Share with us your thoughts.