User-generated content (UGC) was the wave of the future, and then it was the norm. Even our restaurant consultants pushed the benefits of social media marketing and relying on user-generated content through online reviews, social media posts, and sharable videos and photos. We stand by our simple social media strategies and believe that social media marketing is a great way for restaurants—especially regional, local, smaller, neighborhood establishments—to capitalize on community-sharing and maximize limited marketing budgets.

Of course, as with any strategy in business, you must weigh the pros against the cons, and user-generated content could present some tricky consequences. The primary cause? Lack of control. Relying on users to share about your restaurant opens up the possibility of something being shared that might not have been in your original marketing plan.

As Joshua Buxbaum shares on Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN), these consequences are hidden, but influential. Going viral on the internet is just as likely to happen for something negative, in fact, might be even more likely—and once it’s online, damage control can be a challenge. “As great as it is when used properly, UGC is not without risks. Users are unpredictable and one bad apple can ruin the bunch,” Buxbaum warns. “There are specific vulnerabilities in the food and beverage industry that operators should be aware of in order to maintain brand reputation and avoid facing legal consequences.”

However, it’s important that restaurant owner-operators not let the negatives outweigh the positives. UGC can be an incredibly useful and cost-effective tool for marketing. A better approach is to consider the risks up-front and be prepared for how to navigate and mitigate should trouble arrive.

Buxbaum says the best first step is to have a means of monitoring content about your restaurant. Social media profiles are ill-effective if they aren’t regularly engaged anyway, and part of your social media management plan should be to keep track of mentions, check-ins, comments, and the like. Tools like Google Alerts are useful for collecting mentions on websites and in the news; and your social media manager should, at least daily, check-in on social platform notifications. 

What’s most important during this process, Buxbaum says, is to maintain a balanced reputation online. “Both positive and negative comments are necessary for a restaurant to be seen as trustworthy, but brand trashing, mentions of competing brands and controversial content can and should be filtered out.” Your social media management process should take an objective approach to feedback, whether it be positive or negative; and it’s a good idea to develop a system of checks and balances for when this feedback is received. As part of that system, decide what negative feedback is to be removed or responded to ahead of time.

There are two key mistakes to watch out for when monitoring negative reviews, Buxbaum notes. The first is whether or not a reviewer has the right establishment—follow-up on the experience for details will reveal whether or not the complaint is about your location. And secondly, this can be the case with food delivery apps. If your restaurant uses as a third-party service, it could be that negative feedback is actually directed toward the service or the delivery person, not the food experience. 

Unfortunately, the other drawback to user-generated content is ill-motivated. As the internet becomes a daily space for much of the world’s population, we are exposed to the good—and the bad and the ugly. Your social media management process should be prepared to monitor for profanity, hate speech, illicit content—sadly, bad intentions aren’t concerned about a proper platform, and they will post their destructive messages anywhere.

Richard Weil, owner and principal of National Restaurant Consultants says, “Social media platforms are part of a good vertical marketing approach. Recognizing the need to manage the process daily—at a minimum—as well as creating a pre-set proactive process versus reactive one, will prove invaluable.” Social media and user-generated content is just a marketing norm, and there continue to be obvious benefits to employing a structured, intentional social media plan. And it is that intentionality that will prepare your staff for the hidden concerns that may crop up with social media use. 

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