Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beyond Marketing – How Social Media Can Improve Daily Business Operations

An Interview with Tanya Fox of Naples Tomato

Companies are flocking to social media for marketing purposes. However, beyond acquiring and keeping customers, social media can improve daily business operations – as Naples Tomato, a nationally recognized restaurant in Naples, Florida, is finding out.

The Fussy Marketer recently interviewed Tanya Fox (photo), who manages the social media program for Naples Tomato, to learn how. (Disclosure: Naples Tomato is a client.) Tanya’s experience and tips are valuable even if you’re not in the restaurant business.

Q. Tanya, what is Naples Tomato?

A. Naples Tomato is a restaurant in Naples, Florida, that specializes in something we call Vine Dining. Vine Dining is a uniquely American way to experience the Mediterranean lifestyle, where every meal is a celebration of life. We provide a flexible dining experience so you can match inventive food and wines to your mood, the moment and your budget. We are located in North Naples, Florida, and we serve 100,000 guests a year.

Q. Describe Naples Tomato’s social media program.

A. We have an active Twitter feed with nearly 3,500 followers, and we do between three and seven tweets a day. We tweet about daily specials and menu items, and about local events and attractions that our guests might enjoy. We also look for people who are coming to Naples and invite them to our restaurant. We offer a special treat to guests who mention Twitter.

We also have a Facebook fan page with about 130 fans – and growing. We also use OpenTable, a commercial Web 2.0 online reservations system with customer feedback and reviews, which is very important to our operations. And we track restaurant consumer ratings sites and respond to comments. These sites include Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, and Chowhound. We started our social media program in March 2009.

Q. How have social media helped Naples Tomato’s business?

A. It’s been an inexpensive way to reach foodies and wine lovers internationally. We’ve acquired many dozens of new guests who found us online, mostly through Twitter and OpenTable. We’re also building a fan base of people who have joined our Facebook page and who regularly re-tweet us on Twitter. This is all great, but the biggest value has been in improving our operations.

Q. How so?

A. We now get immediate feedback, good and bad. It’s like having 200 mystery shoppers watching us every day. It keeps us all on notice to do a great job. The staff know a good experience or a bad experience can be all over the Internet instantly.

We've improved our customer service because we can take immediate action. We have let staff go based on social media feedback. We also give rewards to staff who have been recognized by guests on social media.

Social media also provides a more accurate picture of guest satisfaction. Guests now have an easy way to be vocal, both positive and negative. In the past, we only heard when people weren’t happy. Today, we have an ongoing online conversation with our guests, so we know what they are thinking – good and bad— and we can respond. It’s been tremendous in helping us build good will.

To maintain and continually improve our service, we recently established a new quality-control program: we formally investigate and respond within 24 hours to any guest who gives us less than a 4-star review on OpenTable. Every week, we also reward the top server and servers mentioned by our guests on OpenTable. [November 23, 2009 update]

So, you can see that we take social media very seriously.

Q. Which tools do you find most valuable?

A. Twitter and Facebook are great for instant feedback, and for reaching out to current fans and for finding new fans. People are very engaged and very responsive. People blog about us and re-tweet us. Many bloggers and members of the press are on Twitter and Facebook, so we can develop relationships with them here.

OpenTable provides a lot of data about our guests. Things like what they ate, who their server was, when they like to come in, and how many times they have come in. We now know our guests much better, so we can take a very personal approach to customer service, even with the large number of guests we have. We serve 100,000 guests a year, and one-third reserve through OpenTable.

For example, we might send a free dessert platter over to a repeat guest, or have the owner stop by the table to wish that person a happy anniversary. I’ve even picked up information on Twitter, and phoned in to the restaurant from home on a weekend to make special things happen.

Q. Any advice for restaurants considering social media?

A. My number-one tip is to be honest and open – when things are good and bad. Don’t post fake reviews. Do share good news. Do admit when you’ve made a mistake. Do talk with people, not at people. Do be a resource to people, don’t just push your products and services. For example, we promote Naples and Naples attractions on Twitter and Facebook. We follow lots of people on Twitter and participate as fans on other Facebook pages.

It’s also important to proceed with confidence if your operations are good, but with caution if they aren’t. Our guest satisfaction rates are around 98% and our operations are strong. If your satisfaction rates or your operations aren’t good, your warts will show on social media.

Also, have a strategy for how you will handle negative feedback. We’re not perfect. At Naples Tomato, we want to hear if people have a negative experience. This helps us be better. On Twitter, we encourage people to DM [direct message] us if they have a bad experience, and let us respond personally. However, if they feel strongly about their experience, it’s their right to post to the Twitter community. You have to be ready for this – you can’t be wimpy. Our main goal is always to delight the guest and respond quickly when things aren’t right. Social media is really helping.

Finally, have fun. Social media is a great way to connect with more guests and prospective guests, and get to know them personally to serve them better. We’ve met some great people, from all over the world.

Q. Where can we find Naples Tomato on Twitter and Facebook?

A. On Twitter, we’re @naplestomato and on Facebook we’re at

October 14, 2009 Update: Naples Tomato today announced that it will offer franchises. More than 300,000 guests have dined at the flagship restaurant since it opened in 2005. According to Tanya Fox, social media marketing will play a prominent role in the new franchise business.

1 comment:

  1. Tanya is one sharp cookie. Naples Tomato is very smart to employ her. We use social media extensively in our business so I appreciate the work she is is spot on for appropriateness and effectiveness.

    Jules Pieri
    Founder, Daily Grommet