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Looking to up your bar marketing game in 2019? Focus on creating “Instagramable” moments, prioritize engagement over content, skip influencer marketing as usual…oh, and never use the flash when taking photos for social media.

These are just some of the bar marketing tactics shared by the founders of Ford Media Lab (or FML, for short). Based in Brooklyn, FML helps businesses tell their story through photography and social media.

FML has been hired by dozens of brands from Cointreau to Patrón, Budweiser to Beefeater. And founders Rachel and Kyle Ford generously agreed to share their social media bar marketing wisdom with you. (Along the way, we discovered that Creative Director Kyle Ford can saber champagne like a boss).

Q) From looking at your Instagram page, you’re really good at creating a personality for both your company – and the brands you work with. How can a business better define their personality? Why is this so important to bar marketing?

A) Always start by answering this question: If your brand was a person, who would he or she be?

The most successful brands – products, bars, restaurants, it doesn’t matter – have a well-defined personality. Most importantly, this persona should be similar to the types of customers you’re trying to attract with your bar marketing. You want to “hack” that ideal customer’s lifestyle. What are their likes, dislikes, interests, attitude? Once you’ve outlined your brand personality, the next step is bringing it to life through strategic bar marketing on social media.

Q) When it comes to bar marketing on Instagram, who should do it? The owner? Should they hire a social media agency?

A) Even though we are a social media agency, we recommend that independent bars or restaurants start by using their own team to create content for bar marketing. It ensures the content is authentic, and it’s an awesome way to build a positive culture.

Most people fall into the hospitality biz by accident, so they’ve got other interests and passions. As a manager or owner, you can help team members pursue a passion like photography or blogging.

That being said, be sure the bar marketing content that team member creates is high quality. If you need to, hire a professional photographer for a session. Then use those photos to curate a “top 9” set of photos on Instagram – as well as Facebook.

Q) What do you mean by bar marketing content that’s high quality?

A) It’s all about quality over quantity on social media. We can’t stress this enough. Too often smaller businesses feel this pressure to post photos daily. That’s too much. Even big brands don’t push out content that often! Instead, carefully curate content that reflects your brand.

Here’s another tip: Before posting, ask yourself why you’re sharing the content. Is it interesting, newsworthy, beautiful? Is it in line with your brand? Not everything is worth posting.

Today’s first impressions are made on Instagram and Facebook, not websites. Look at your more recent photos on social media, do they reflect your business in a positive light? We mean that literally.

Lighting is key when taking photos for social media bar marketing. Whenever possible, seek out natural light sources – and skip the flash, even in dim lighting. Cocktails photograph best in daylight, so take a table outside when doing closeups. These are just a few of the 10 essentials for smartphone photography.

Q) So, quality trumps quantity in bar marketing…but how often should bars be posting on social media?

A) 1-2x a week is a good goal to aim for, but here’s another “secret” we like to share. You could have just 9 perfect photos on your Instagram page, only post a few times a month, and still rule at bar marketing.

How? By prioritizing engagement over content. Engagement is hands down the least utilized yet most effective bar marketing strategy on social media.

Think about it. As a manager, you check in with customers – making the rounds at tables. Take that hospitality mentality to your bar marketing. Talking and engaging with folks on social media is just a continuation of that customer-focused process. And it leaves a big impression…

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Q) Can you explain your “engagement over content” approach?

A) It’s right in the name: “social” media. Successful bar marketing on social media is NOT a monologue, it’s a dialogue. No one wants to be friends with someone who talks all the time, and doesn’t listen.

The question is…are you listening and responding to customers?

While you don’t need to post daily on Instagram or Facebook, you should actively interact with customers and other pages every day! Honestly, customers don’t get that excited by your bar marketing content – it’s engagement that gets them excited. For them, it’s thrilling when you write back or like their photo. Here’s what engaged bar marketing looks like..

Let’s say a customer comes in for dinner, then posts a photo and “tags” your restaurant on Facebook. If your notifications are enabled, you’ll get an alert. Within 24 hours, you should react to the photo and type a message that’s in the tone of that brand personality you’ve outlined.

Every comment made on your bar marketing posts should be responded to…ASAP. Even the negative ones (although those should be handled carefully using this approach to negative reviews and feedback).

Engaged bar marketing isn’t just about responding, it’s also initiating contact. On Instagram, use hashtags to search your business name, then like and comment on photos. Even seek out other similar businesses, see who’s following them, and like their content as well.

Not only will this engagement-focused bar marketing tactic win the hearts of your customers, it will attract new ones. When they visit your Facebook or Instagram page and see that you’re active – that you respond – they’re more likely to engage with you.

Q) We’re hearing a lot of buzz about influencer bar marketing in 2019. Does this strategy increase engagement with customers?

A) The traditional influencer bar marketing model – paying someone to talk about your business online – isn’t engaging at all. We don’t recommend it.

Instead, we advise our clients to turn their own customers into influencers. Bonus: this is free bar marketing. To do this, you have to engage with them first by creating something people want to share and talk about on social media. (Interviewer’s mind is blown). We call these “Instagram-able moments.”

Q) Whoa, ok, that’s an awesome bar marketing strategy. So how do you create that “Instagram-able” moment? How can you engage customers in that way?

A) It starts offline – right in your bar or restaurant. It could be as simple as creating a cocktail that everyone wants a picture of. Check out Mother of Pearl’s Instagram feed. This tiki bar in New York’s East Village has very Instagram-worthy drinks in mugs shaped like pineapples, shark mouths, and even skulls. Katana Kitten, another bar in NYC, has mastered the art of authentic bar marketing. People are sharing their iconic highball cocktails all over Instagram. You want to create a sense of #FOMO, or fear of missing out. It’s like the rainbow bagel in Brooklyn. Tourists will wait hours to get that colorful bagel, just to post it on Instagram.

Once people start taking photos of your signature menu items, you’ll naturally start attracting influencers – and you won’t have to pay them.

Q) Beyond the drink menu, are there other ways to use this bar marketing strategy of “Instagram-ability”?

A) Yes. This one may seem like obvious bar marketing, but make it easy for people to tag your restaurant or bar on social media. That means putting your social media handles right on menus – and throughout your space on posters and digital signage. Use your logo as the profile photo on all social media channels.

Another key tactic: your staff should embrace the trend of people taking photos. Sure, the flash may be annoying. But if your goal is to improve bar marketing on social media, accept those selfies! It’s small things, like offering to take a photo for a table. People need to feel comfortable taking photos….it’s modern customer service.

Q) Speaking of selfies, people seem to seek out crazy things in bars and restaurants to take photos in front of – like the infinity mirrors in the bathrooms at Morimoto in NYC. Why is that?

A) Again, it comes back to #FOMO. If a celebrity posts a photo in front of a cool mural at a restaurant, everyone wants that same photo. You can create Instagramable moments by optimizing your interior – and exterior – décor. Today, architects and designers are even building with that Instagram-factor in mind.

A great example is Cha Cha Matcha in NYC . They’ve integrated light pink and green into everything: cups, tabletops, walls – and everyone is snapping pics left and right. It could be retro wallpaper or a mural by a popular street artist. Another option is setting up a spot for selfies with a step-and-repeat banner featuring your logo (you see these behind celebs on the red carpet…they run about $300-$400).

Q) One last question that ties into your experiences working as brand ambassadors for high-profile spirits brands. Are there opportunities to approach these companies for bar marketing support?

A) Definitely. The “secret sauce” for this bar marketing strategy is to tap into both the spirits company directly – and your distributor.

Let’s talk about going direct to spirits companies, first. Most have a team of brand ambassadors that represent the product both in person and on social media. We’ve both held brand ambassador roles for brands like Remy Martin and Tanqueray, traveling the country giving seminars and holding sampling events at bars. We were also active on social media.

The best advice is to seek out these brand ambassadors, and get your bar on their radar. Start by searching on Instagram using the hashtag of the brand, then send a message. Encourage your bartenders to follow these ambassadors on social media, it’s a great way to motivate your team to stay on top of trends in bar marketing, too.

Q) Thank you for sharing your bar marketing wisdom with the Buzztime community. If our readers want to “engage” with you…can you share your handles?

A) Sure, we love meeting new people in the industry – both in person and online. Here’s where to reach us!

Rachel Ford on Instagram 

Kyle Ford on Instagram 

Ford Media Lab