Nowadays, any restaurant wanting to succeed needs a strong social media presence. With 72 percent of the public interacting and building connections online, social media has become a major component in consumers’ decision-making processes. Customers frequently turn to social media for reviews and recommendations from friends and influencers, and restaurants lacking a strong presence miss out on free publicity and a chance for customer interaction.

One of the simplest (and most cost-effective!) ways that restaurants can make the most of social media marketing is through User-Generated Content (UGC). UGC is content relevant to a business’s brand that’s produced by customers voluntarily. While this content has an effect similar to a post from a professional influencer, it is different in that it is both unpaid and organic. This difference is significant, as a recent survey found that over half of Americans trust UGC more than a paid social media advertisement.

Through UGC, restaurants are able to turn customers into advertisers and extend their reach. However, because UGC is valuable in its authenticity, restaurants must not simply ask customers to post about their business. Instead, restaurateurs must find creative and exciting ways to grab customers’ attention and entice them to share their experiences unprompted.

One way that restaurants can enhance and brand customers’ experiences is by providing an atmosphere that begs to be photographed. Whether it’s an over-the-top menu item that’s perfect for an Instagram story or a wall decorated to make the perfect backdrop, little details go a long way in making a customer’s experience special. While this type of attraction requires extra effort and resources upfront, it can pay for itself over time.

When multiple individuals post about a restaurant, the more others want to be a part of the experience. When a restaurant is frequently posted about, its popularity increases as new customers are enticed to visit and see what the hype is about. In fact, UGC can be the sole reason that a customer decides to visit one restaurant over another.

While UGC is identified as organic and unpaid, there are some ways that restaurants can “pay” customers in exchange for a social media post without dishing out thousands for a mention on an influencer’s account. For example, restaurants can host raffles and giveaways on their social media accounts where customers have the chance to win drinks, gift cards, and other freebies. Many of these contests exchange one entry per person tagged in the comments, exposing potential new customers to the brand. 

Other “paid” UGC includes exchanging customer photos for a contest entry or freebie, such as a free appetizer or beverage. Some restaurants will encourage customers to post a photo of them enjoying their experience with a specific hashtag, which can later be shown to a waiter in exchange for their reward. Restaurants that don’t have the profit margins to allow for giveaways and freebies can show appreciation for customers’ UGC by reposting their photo or liking/commenting on their post.