Dining Guide: Online promotion doesn’t profit


How effective are social media promotions? Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

If Sorrento’s is offering a cheap pizza, freshman Brody Hastings is in.

Attracting and retaining customers like Hastings at local restaurants is the subject of a study from a collaboration of researchers at Pitt’s School of Information Sciences and the Stevens Institute of Technology.

The study, “Analyzing and Modeling Special Offer Campaigns in Location-based Social Networks,” was published in August and presented at the ninth annual International Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Conference on Web and Social Media in Oxford, England. The researchers investigated whether or not businesses benefit from using “online yellow page” tools like Foursquare or Yelp to advertise new promotions and reel in patrons.

Hastings has used the Internet and social media to look up wing deals in Oakland—but those one-time deals don’t make him a lifetime customer. The study’s results, which were released in August, show how marketing a business through social media might not be that profitable in the long term.

Although the analysis showed a large number of venues had an increase of check-ins on Foursquare during a promotion, about an equal number of restaurants did not show an increase of check-ins. The study also found that while online promotions may briefly increase the amount of customers at a restaurant, the spike does not typically last after the promotion is over.

Will Doolin, a freshman business major, said he doesn’t use his cell phone to find promotions in Oakland.

“I feel like if I’m going to a restaurant, it’s through word of mouth,” Doolin said.

The most efficient way to get students’ attention, according to Doolin and Michael Ritt, a freshman engineering major, is to take an old-fashioned approach.

“Definitely flyers,” Ritt said, “in well-placed areas.”

Konstantinos Pelechrinis, one of the researchers from Pitt’s School of Information Sciences, said the popularity of a restaurant was a defining difference that contributes to whether or not a special deal brings in customers.

Other factors he found include how long the deal lasts, how many people live near the restaurant and competition with other restaurants.

Pelechrinis did not take demographics into account in his study, but he hypothesized that restaurants in Oakland may have a bonus — college students who are actively engaged in social media to find out about activities and food deals on campus.

“Oakland [as compared to a generic urban neighborhood, is] populated mainly by students. This demographic is tech savvy and uses social media constantly,” he said.

Julia Siracuse, a sophomore Chinese and sociology major, said she follows Dunkin Donuts on social media and receives promotional offers like “DD Perks.”

Dunkin Donuts, a business whose popularity, price and proximity factors play important roles in Oakland, gave away free coffee on Tuesday for National Coffee Day, and the line was out the door.

“The major difference is to use active, push notifications to nearby customers so they are aware of the presence of a special deal,” Pelechrinis said.

While eateries in Oakland may have an active Yelp or FourSquare page, most turn to Facebook to offer promotions and track customers with its location-associated features.

Owners of local eateries that utilize social networking platforms agreed that students were an important factor in their restaurants’ advertising strategies.

Fuel and Fuddle’s Facebook page, for example, has more than 3,000 likes, and more than 11,000 people have “checked in” at the popular restaurant and bar since the page’s inception in 2008.

Brandon Smith, owner of Fuel and Fuddle, said his restaurant posts deals on Facebook and shows off new items on the menu. The Fuel and Fuddle Facebook page has constant upkeep with monthly updates of new feature dishes, discounts and specials on alcoholic beverages.

“We get really good responses. I definitely see people show up and say they saw this [special or deal] on Facebook,” he said.

Recently, Fuel and Fuddle has been using Facebook to promote its new menu. The most recent picture of a s’mores pizza sundae has more than 160 likes and 20 shares.

Smith also said it’s been more effective for him to offer deals late at night.

“At night we get more students, at lunch we get mostly business people or professionals [like hospital staff],” he said.

Lanie Chen, co-owner of Tenders on Oakland Avenue, however, has had a different experience with social media. She said since her restaurant is relatively new, the Facebook page has less popularity than more established eateries throughout Oakland.

“We put our Facebook page [URL] on vouchers and advertisements we give out, but no one really looks at it,” she said.

The Tenders Facebook page, which Chen created in February 2015, has 52 likes and 13 “check-ins.” The Yelp page, which features reviews and user-submitted photos of the restaurant, for Tenders has seven reviews and four and a half out of five stars.

“We don’t really get a lot of customers from those things. I don’t know why I thought Facebook would be good for that,” Chen said.

Posters, coupons and word of mouth, Chen said, have been more effective than social media promotions, so the business has turned away from frequent Facebook updates.

“We’re pretty happy with [the strategies] we have now,” she said.

Pelechrinis said even if restaurants experience an influx of customers after one promotion, they should still be wary about believing an increase in student patrons is permanent.

“This does not automatically translate to a long-term success. [For example], after the deal is seized, students might look for the next venue that will offer them a cheaper option,” he said.

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