Marketing With Blogs

Don't take my word for it

The blogosphere is a confusing place to most people.  When I started my first blog most people assumed it was nothing more than an online diary.  Various people came to me with random topics and products to discuss that had nothing to do with the topic of my blog.  To the uninitiated reader, blogs are nothing more than spots for ranting or sharing opinions.  To the savvy marketer, they represent the opportunity for co-promotion that can drive guests into your restaurant.

This post is not advocating starting a blog.  Without some sort of celebrity or a built in audience, it is incredibly time consuming to launch a successful blog.  I spend about 20 hours a week writing and maintaining my blogs.  This is time that a manager or chef could use more productively in a number of ways.  Instead restaurant owners and managers should look for the opportunity to promote their business through existing blogs.

Exisiting blogs come with a built in audience.  This audience is often more loyal than readers of the average website.  The reason people read a blog is because they are interested in the thoughts and interests of the author.  This makes bloggers more influential than the average anonymous reviewer on sites like Yahoo or Yelp.  The key is to identify the right bloggers to work with and approach them with a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Here are the steps to launching a successful co-promotion with a blogger:

Identify Influencers: The key to a successful co-promotion is to determine which bloggers you can form a mutually beneficial relationship with.  In order to do this, you must establish which bloggers reach the audience you want.  Try typing in key words that you think your guests would be looking for with your city attached.  A search like “Kansas City foodie” or “Kansas City cheap beer” will lead you to local bloggers writing about topics your potential guests are interested in.  The best sources are those that are local and provide information relevant to your guests.  Look at how often they post and their content.  Does it match the image you want to portray?  Also check out their ratings on alexa.com.  This will allow you to get an idea of the reach of their blog.  As a rough estimate, anyone ranked in the top ten million sites is getting well over 5000 views a month.

Co-Promotion: The key to successfully marketing with a blogger is to offer them something of value in return.  Most bloggers would refuse to write a stellar review for money.  They will however write an honest review if you invite them in for a meal.  Offering a free meal to a blogger is not unethical as long as you can accept an honest review.  You need to treat them just as you would if the local food critic was coming in.  Additionally, once their review is posted you should promote it through your social networking and public relations channels.  In this way, a positive review is further rewarded by giving a blogger traffic to their site.

Another more interesting method is to offer a blogger the opportunity to create a dish for your nightly/weekly special.  You can have several bloggers competing for this honor and expect a very favorable mention on the winner’s site.  Remember this is all about co-promotion.  Bloggers don’t require you to take a price cut to drive traffic.  They are not the competition.  They are people who speak to the potential guests you want to visit your restaurant.  Promoting them shows a tie to the community and costs nearly nothing.

Build Relationships: No one likes that friend who is only around when they want something.  Do not look at this as a one-time contact.  Instead try to build a lasting relationship with these bloggers.  Visit their site when they are not writing about you and leave a comment.  Add them to the list of contacts you send press releases to.  Send them a quick email when you bring in a new or exciting product.  Continuing this relationship will take less than 15 minutes a month, but yield tremendous ongoing benefits for a minimal time investment.

As a restaurant owner or manager, you are approached with any number of marketing opportunities.  Most of these require an upfront investment, a reduction of profits, and the risk of devaluing your menu.  Finding ways to successfully promote your restaurant without these drawbacks require ingenuity and creativity.  This incredibly low cost marketing idea is nearly guaranteed to provide a return on your investment while maintaining the integrity of your pricing.  Marketing successfully in the 21st century takes fresh approaches, but provide a tremendous upside to those willing to take advantage of them.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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