Over the past six months, COVID-19 has impacted every multi-location business in one way or another. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, US restaurants have lost more than $185 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association as state and local governments have imposed restrictions around capacity, hours, and indoor dining to prevent the spread of the virus. Whether your finances were impacted or you had to make adjustments to your business to ensure safety measures were implemented, things haven’t been easy. As the dust starts to settle and we begin to dive into our “new normal” throughout the pandemic, it’s essential to consider how COVID-19 has impacted your localized marketing efforts and what you need to do to create a winning localized marketing strategy. 

 

Throughout this blog, we’ll look specifically at how COVID-19 has impacted the food and beverage industry. If you’re a multi-location business but not in restaurants, much of the content can still be translated across industries. 

 

Getting Started: How COVID-19 Impacted the Industry

 

The food and beverage industry was one of the hardest-hit industries when COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the country in early March. Many restaurants and bars were forced to shut their doors early on and develop an alternate plan to serve customers. Many restaurants ramped up their take-out and delivery options, while some bars in certain states provided take-out options as well. 

 

In recent months, restaurants have had to figure out how to re-open safely, protecting both their customers and employees. While all of this has been a lot to manage, it’s time for multi-location marketers in the food and beverage industry to shift their focus to localized marketing, what was impacted, and how you can recover. 

 

A Strong Online Presence is a Must 

 

Many restaurants and bars shut their doors at the beginning of the pandemic, causing an online-shift among consumers. Rather than getting their information by going to your restaurant in-person, they had to turn to find that decision-making information online. Consumers are trepid to leave their homes, so if they visit one of your restaurants and you don’t offer takeout or dine-in options as described by your local listings, this will cause even more frustration. This shift to digital is here to stay, so a strong online presence for your restaurant is a must. 

 

Your business can maintain a robust online presence through both your local social media channels and your local listings. Consumers are craving a localized connection now more than ever. Recent research shows that localized content performs 12 times better than content that is not considered localized. If your restaurant or bar isn’t already active at the local level on social media, it’s time to start. 

 

If you’re looking for ways to stay active and engaged on social media, check our blog on the topic. SOCi’s social media management solution can also help manage social media across your business locations. SOCi’s social media management solution empowers enterprise and local teams to publish localized content, manage content libraries, respond to social engagements, and analyze performance.

 

Updated local listings are also critical to maintaining a healthy online presence. Consider how consumers are looking for information online during the pandemic – local search and social profiles are providing consumers the information they need to make a purchase decision. So, if your hours of operation have changed due to COVID-19 or you have new take-out or delivery options, these should all be listed on your local listings. If your local listings aren’t up to date and give consumers incorrect information, this will confuse them and stop them from coming back to your business in the future. Additionally, key digital platforms like Yelp and Google My Business have made multiple updates throughout the pandemic which empower restaurants to showcase their updated business procedures on their local profiles. 

 

While managing your local listings across all of your business locations might seem daunting, SOCi Listings does all the hard work for you. Ensure that reliable information is found with SOCi Listings, the industry leader in data reputation and authority. We’ll help increase the accuracy of your listings data and improve local search rankings, resulting in more vital brand awareness and visibility. A strong online presence through social media and local listings will give your business the boost it needs to beat the competition. 

 

Start Adding Value to Your Consumers 

 

If you’re looking for additional ways to improve your localized marketing efforts, start thinking about ways to add value to your consumers. If a consumer feels like your business is making an effort to enhance their experience, they will be more likely to return to your establishment or recommend it to a friend.

 

Chatbots

 

Chatbots are a great way to add value to your consumers and consolidate your localized marketing efforts. Chatbots can be set up on both your website and through digital channels like Facebook Messenger or Google My  Business Messages and can communicate with consumers in a matter of seconds. Rather than having to call in and ask a question about your menu or hours of operation, a consumer can get on your website or digital profiles and ask the chatbot, who will respond instantly. This saves time for both the consumer and your employees. 

 

Chatbots can also ask for feedback about your restaurant or bar and get information about the consumer’s experience. This feedback can then be used to improve your business, further adding value to the consumer. 

 

If you’re unsure how to get started with chatbots or need help implementing them across your business locations, SOCi’s new SOCiSmartbot™ is here for you. The first of its kind, this Messenger and Google Business Messages chatbot delivers localized, proactive responses to commonly asked questions. It can also drive call-to-actions, including calls, website clicks, appointment setting, purchases, and more!

 

Safe Dining Experience

 

While this one is pretty self-explanatory, many consumers want to know that your business is serious about keeping them safe and healthy. Does your restaurant or bar have social distancing measures in place? Do you require your staff to wear masks and wash their hands frequently? If so, these are things that your consumer should be aware of. 

 

You can share ways that your restaurant is providing a safe dining experience through your local social media channels, as well as through your local listings. If a consumer is deciding between two restaurants and taking safety precautions seriously, which restaurant do you think the consumer will choose? 

 

Digital Advertising 

 

Is your multi-location business currently using any digital advertising? If your budget allows, digital advertising is an excellent opportunity for you to add value to your consumers. Your business can leverage digital advertising to share information about what you’re doing to keep consumers safe during COVID-19, showcase specials your restaurant is promoting, or promote any updated business practices you are now deploying – like takeout deals or delivery options. Digital advertising will allow your business to share this information with a broader audience, adding value to both your consumers and your business alike. 

 

If you have any promotions that may benefit your consumers, sharing this information through digital advertising is crucial. Digital advertising can come in many forms, whether it’s through email marketing or social media campaigns. While localized social advertising can seem overwhelming to implement across 100s or 1,000s of business locations, it doesn’t have to be. SOCi Ads PLUS lets you instantly create and deploy highly customized, targeted local ads across all of your business locations.

 

Begin Rebuilding Your Online Reputation 

 

When it comes to online reputation, the first thing that comes to mind is ratings and reviews. Ratings and reviews are a crucial component of your online presence and must be maintained across business locations. Eighty-eight percent of consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so a strong reputation is necessary. Especially as consumers’ research has turned entirely digital, online reviews provide consumers with the context they need to determine where they will make their next purchase. 

 

Throughout the pandemic, many businesses suffered when it came to their online reputation. Google My Business (GMB) paused reviews because consumers were leaving negative reviews for businesses that were only doing what was required of them during the beginning of the pandemic, such as requiring masks. If your restaurant or bar’s online reputation suffered during COVID-19, you’re not alone, but now is a great time to begin improving that reputation. 

 

One of the best ways to improve your online reputation is by responding to negative reviews. Eighty-seven percent of consumers express a willingness to change their negative reviews depending on how the business responds. If your restaurant responds in a personalized manner and addresses the consumer’s complaint, they will be more likely to change the negative review, improving your online reputation.

 

You can also improve your online reputation by responding to more than just the negative reviews. Data from our Q3 2020 State of Multi-Location Marketing Report found that, on average, businesses responded to 42.9 percent of the reviews they received in Q2. This number was slightly lower than the response rate in Q1, likely because Google paused businesses’ ability to respond to reviews in the early stages of the pandemic. On average, 91 percent of reviews were four stars or above across Google, Yelp, and Facebook. If your restaurant or bar isn’t meeting these industry standards, it’s time to re-evaluate. 

 

For assistance managing your reviews across business locations, SOCi’s streamlined reputation manager can help. SOCi pulls every review for all your business locations into one centralized platform — accessible by both corporate and local teams. Give local marketing teams the power to respond to reviews and your corporate team the ability to maintain oversight through the creation of approval workflows.

 

Within the restaurant industry, most businesses could previously rely upon traditional tactics – from radio, to print advertising, to printed signage. However, as consumers have shifted to a digital-first behavior in their buying decision research, restaurants have had to adapt. A previously traditional industry has had to become digital, and this change happened nearly overnight. However, having all the tools you need to meet consumers where they’re spending time online requires a centralized tool, like SOCi, and other major restaurant brands agree. SOCi’s central command is necessary to unify restaurants’ presence across hundreds and thousands of local search, social, and ratings and reviews pages across the United States.

Now that you have the insights needed to start rebuilding your localized marketing efforts, it’s time to get started. For more information on how SOCi can help your business in the food and beverage industry create a winning localized marketing strategy and beat the competition, request a demo today!

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