Uncase Study: How Flemings Steakhouse Could Use Social Media To Be The Expert In Steak

Note About “Uncase Studies”: Traditionally case studies are used to describe how a company or organization solved a problem. Others with similar problems can then use the case study to understand how they may solve their own problems. I will be writing an ongoing series of “uncase studies” that will outline what companies or organizations could be doing to improve their marketing and community building efforts using social media approaches.

Disclaimer: The companies and organizations that I talk about in my “uncase studies” are not my clients. I attempt to research any of their current work to leverage social media. Just because I write about them does not mean that the people that handle their marketing (internal or external) are not planning to implement social media strategy and tactics that could be far better than the ones discussed in my posts. It means they had not been publicly implemented that I could find at the time my post was published.

The Catalyst:
Steak Why is Flemings the first uncase study? Flemings recently opened their first restaurant in the Raleigh-Durham area and as part of their opening marketing push they sent me and others in the Raleigh area a $100 gift certificate to try their restaurant, with the goal to facilitate some word-of-mouth. Which worked, because I am writing this post. Overall I had a good experience, the food was slightly over-priced and the steaks could have been cooked a little more evenly. However, the service was good, the side dishes were very tasty and I had a tremendous bottle of 2005 Kelly Fleming Cabernet. (For me the wine was the highlight of the night. It was great stuff and will be even better with a few years of age on it. Go get on Kelly’s mailing list now, before it is full.)

The Industry:
Honestly, I don’t know that much about the high-end restaurant business overall, but I think it is safe to assume that the difficult economic times facing the the United States currently, is not a good thing for this industry.  Individuals and businesses are cutting back on top tier dinning.  It is critical now more than ever to establish leadership, build a community of supporters, and differentiate yourself from the competition.

Additionally, the Steakhouse industry seems like a crowded space with national chains like Ruth Chris, Sullivan’s and Flemings combined with local and regional steakhouses.  For the purpose of this post we are going to only discuss the three major chains: Flemings, Ruth Chris, and Sullivan’s. After some brief web and blog research it doesn’t seem like any of these three steakhouses are engaging in social media as a marketing medium. The restaurants also don’t seems to have an online community manager to react to the wide variety of forum and blog postings as well has pictures and videos, thus missing a core community building opportunity.

Advice and Strategy:
One of the other core reasons I wanted to start my uncase study series with Flemings is that a could use case study that currently exists of a single location steakhouse using social media effectively. Jason Falls over at Social Media Explorer has written a case study of Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse’s use of social media.  Anyone in the restaurant business should read it!

Here is what one of the partners of Caminito said about the ROI of their social media work:

“As far as our ROI on social media efforts, of course it’s always hard to determine that. But, what I do know is that since we turned our focus to social media, attracting inbound links, more internet marketing/less print advertising, etc., we have seen an approximate 30 percent boost in sales (year to date) in a time where a lot of restaurants are down 10-20 percent. Not all of that can be attributed to our online presence but I’m sure a good portion of it can.”

If you handle a marketing for a steakhouse or really any restaurant for that matter, that paragraph from Jason’s case study should be all that you need to sell in the potential of social media marketing to the decision makers.  The case study does a good job of outlining what Caminito is doing.  What about Flemings? What could they be doing?

Get A Community Manager:
All types of marketers are spewing lists of social media tactics and even though some may work it is more important to have an overall strategy for social media marketing. My first recommendations to the folks at OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC the folks that own Flemings and several other national restaurants would be to hire  online community manager. Yes I realize that this is a difficult time for your business, but this is also the time to get the leg up on your competition. A good online community manager will probably cost about $45,000 – $75,000 per year in salary depending on their experience and expertise.

What will this person do? Well that is really up to OSI’s marketing and customer service teams but I would imagine that this person would become the online spokesperson for Flemings and other OSI restaurants. This person would engage with folks across blogs, forums, and social networks  to answer questions related to Flemings and probably prime beef in general. Additionally, this person could become the core creator of content on a blog or other form of company run communications platform. For a major national restaurant chain to not have a online community manager is inexcusable.

From my brief research of some of the national steakhouse chains it seems like none of them have a strong hold on being considered the “experts in prime quality steaks”. If I were Flemings, this is where I would start my overall strategy. A smart social media marketing plan could leverage the skills of a good community manager not only to interact with current Flemings customers but to illustrate Flemings’ expertise in prime beef and fine dining. I would also suggest integrating organic and paid search marketing efforts at the same time as Flemings starts their social media marketing efforts so that all of their online marketing efforts can be tied together.

So when it comes down to it, how does Flemings make this happen? Most of that will be up to the community manger and the marketing team but I have a few tactical ideas that the may want to consider.

  1. Make It Easier For People To Talk About Flemings – Create a Flemings Flickr account and upload logos, food and restaurant pictures that are creative commons licensed so that bloggers and other citizen journalists can easily include them when talking about Flemings.
  2. Give Folks An Inside Look – Arm your community manager with a video camera and send him into operations such as meat selection and employee training.  Let him/her ask questions about how these operation works directly to the folks doing the work. On the web people want to feel like they know the people they are buying from.  This will help with this feeling as well as showcase Flemings’ expertise and high-quality products.
  3. Give Wine Part of The Spotlight – Since wine bar is part of the Flemings’ name I would suggest doing video interviews with the wine-makers/wineries that Flemings features to help customers understand why they were selected and why they should feel good about buying their wine to go with high-end steak.  I would do this with a separate blog dedicated to wine, but their of course are other ways it could be done. (the wine blog would still be part of the main Flemings Web site though)
  4. Adapt New Location Word-Of-Mouth Tactics – As I mentioned earlier Flemings sent out gift certificates as part of their new location opening, which is not a bad tactic. However, I think they would be better served to take some of their new location marketing budget to have a special blogger dinner where all of the relevant local bloggers could come and try a little of everything Flemings has to offer. This would generate tweets, pictures and other coverage at the event  and most likely lead to longer blog postings following the event that would help facilitate word-of-mouth across the new market.

I could go on, but I think that is a good place to start for my first uncase study. Please let me know what you think. I would love to know how to improve upcoming uncase studies. Not enough detail? Too much?

One Response to “Uncase Study: How Flemings Steakhouse Could Use Social Media To Be The Expert In Steak”

  1. It is spot on, well done! by the way, how is this restaurant now?

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