8 Ways Restaurants Can Use Facebook Pages (and Not Fail Like Burger King)

Burger King’s marketers have been brilliant, and that includes what they’ve done on Facebook — who can forget the Whopper Sacrifice application, where you could de-friend people in exchange for a free burger. But this cleverness has not translated into any fans on Facebook. Despite being one of the top burger chains in the world, the company does not even appear to have a Facebook page. Meanwhile, its main rival, McDonald‘s, has the largest Facebook restaurant page, with 1.24 million fans.

Facebook fans matter, of course, because you can convert them to actual customers. More on that in a moment.

For anyone trying to market a restaurant on Facebook, here’s a look at how to be more like McDonald’s — and some other brands with successful pages — and less like Burger King. And, to be clear, these practices below can be used by local eateries just as easily as by national chains. Here they are, in order from simplest to most complex.

1. Have a Facebook page

This practice seems painfully obvious, but as Burger King shows us, it’s not. Creating a Facebook page is simple: Just sign up here and fill out the basic information about your business. You can designate yourself as a local restaurant under the “Local” option or as a food or beverage brand under the “Brand, Product or Organization” option.

2. Use updates to convert fans to your marketing goals

This one also seems obvious, and yet many page owners do not take the time to do this every day or even every week. Even posting simple status updates about your business — or really, anything you think is relevant — will be seen by users in their homepage news feeds. Dairy Queen, for example, simply shares links from its other sites, yet hundreds if not thousands of people comment and like each item. These are just simple links, featuring things like its “Blizzard of the Month.” Sharing anything will get people to click through and read your page, and see whatever else your page has to offer. When users comment, their friends will see links to these comments on Facebook walls. And, Facebook’s analytics tool for pages, Insights, determine the demographics of your fan population and use this information to tailor your stories in appropriate and fitting ways.

3. Interact with your fans as much as possible

When a customer approaches you in real life to tell you what they think of your business, you’ll listen. So why not here? You might hear some useful criticism, or some timely compliments. Also, when you respond, you’re more likely to get them to respond — this additional activity will further increase the chance of your fans’ friends seeing. If you’re willing to go even further in this direction, there’s an option in the administrative panel to let the default filter on your wall include posts from fans — for an example of that, see Papa John‘s page.

4. Use multimedia to show off your food and dining experience

Photos and videos say a lot about food, if not the overall style of your establishment. Make sure to let your fans see what you offer, by posting your latest or most prized dishes. Krispy Kreme, for example, posts updates about new types of donuts — like this “pumpkin spice,” which seems to have gone over better with some fans than with others (valuable feedback).

5. Integrate your page with other marketing efforts

Are you also running some sort of contest on another site? Make sure your Facebook fans know about it. For example, Baskin-Robbins‘ page includes one tab that is just an image of its “Birthday Club” birthday ice cream giveaway. It seems simple, but click on the image and you can go sign up for the Birthday Club on the company’s home site. You can edit your tabs within the admin section of your page. For those on Twitter, pages can both receive tweets from Twitter and export status updates into Twitter accounts.

6. Use existing applications to promote your story

Polls, quizzes and other types of applications are readily available within the admin section for page owners, and they just take a few clicks to install. Facebook offers some generic ones, like a discussion board, but you can also add any other app within Facebook’s app directory. One option, if you know how to develop in HTML, is to create your own tab customization using Facebook’s HTML-style FBML markup language.

7. Consider building your Facebook fan base more quickly with Facebook Ads

Facebook pages can be advertised on other parts of the site, and targeted to specific types of users. If you’re a local restaurant, this might make especially good sense — just use Facebook’s advertising tools to narrow the list of people who will see your ads to your geographic area. For advertisers looking to spend at least $50,000 on a campaign, there’s also the option to buy ads on Facebook’s home page. For these advertisers, Facebook has a new feature: Engagement sampling ads, which lets users sign up for things like free hamburgers. See early examples from Chik-fil-A and some positive numbers from hot sauce maker Texas Pete.

8. Create an app just for Facebook fans

This is for restaurants with larger marketing budgets, but it’s worth exploring whether or not an app would make sense for your users. A good example of this comes from Pizza Hut, which created an app that lets people order pizza from a local store while on Facebook.

Conclusion: Make fans into repeat customers

The goal of any restaurant is to get people coming back, and recommending it to their friends. At a high level, even simple things like making and updating a Facebook page can help promote this. To directly track the return on the cost of running a Facebook page, proprietors should try more advanced methods of using pages. A tab with an image of a printable coupon would be one way — just see who brings the coupon in.

The companies we mentioned as examples here are the restaurants with the largest numbers of fans on Facebook. Some of them, especially regional chains like Chik-fil-A, are clearly not as large as Burger King in the real world — and yet they have a far larger Facebook presence. Size doesn’t matter as much as finding the right fit with your target customers.

And one last point: It’s quite possible that unofficial pages or Facebook groups already exist for your brand. In Burger King’s case, Facebook lists 127 groups, none of which are official. Most only have a few hundred or few thousand users, but one has more than 100,000. Burger King, like any other restaurant company, could be turning these users into fans on an official page, then using those pages to help convince them to show up at stores.