The ambiguous power of social media in our industry
It wasn’t until very recently that I started to think about the effect of the media in our industry. I have always been very reticent to believe reviews about a place until I experience it myself, and even more, to swear by the articles promoting this or that venue. However, it was always there, like noise in the background. I didn’t pay much attention to it, nor did I have an opinion about it.
I am a general consumer; I enjoy going to restaurants and bars. But I am also someone who has been working in hospitality for more than a decade. Having been lucky enough to be part of some exceptional teams in great venues, I believe I have a solid understanding of what a good hospitality experience is beyond the smoking mirrors.
About a year ago, I took over the social media of Satan’s Whiskers and, to prepare for the job, I went on to an exhaustive search for the perfect IG account. I studied PR agencies and hospitality influencers, trying to understand what it is they do, and I hoped I might learn a magic trick that would help me boost my newly acquired account. What I discovered was a whole new world. One that was happening simultaneously but in a completely different dimension. As vast as the real hospitality industry, but just a click away from me.
Like a kid grows into adulthood imposing their personality, social media has become an entity with its own rules and laws. Existing independently from real life, it has inherited our tendency of warping toward excess and, as a result, has become tricky to navigate. It is hard to distinguish what is true and what is a filter and, although we are all aware that it shouldn’t be trusted, we all end up playing the big social media game by subscribing our business to it - hoping that followers will become living guests or clients.
Indeed, when a friend talks about this new bar or restaurant they have been to, our reflex is to check out their Instagram account. The first thing that pops on our screen when we click the name of the venue, product, or service is called the feed, and it shows us the number of posts, the number of followers, the accounts followed, and its first nine pictures.
In a very simplified way, the number of posts an account has will usually tell us how long they have been in the game. The higher the number, the longer they have probably been open for. The number of followers is the proof of popularity, how many people are interested in the content of the account. And the first nine photos will catch our eye, determining whether we want to see more, potentially follow, or, on the contrary, exit the page as it doesn’t interest us. In other words, an Instagram account can give credibility to your business or destroy it.
As I said before, Instagram has its own rules and the algorithm will affect the performance of your activity - very often independent of the quality of your content, either boosting traffic onto your account or silencing it. However, the system (and popularity) can be hacked: you can increase your reach and make your account grow, not by producing valuable content or providing a high-quality service, but because you can buy paid reach for your account, you can get your account sponsored, and you can hire influencers.
We give a popular opinion the benefit of trust, and here is where social media plays a key role: as a consumer where would you go first if you had to choose between two places you have never been to? The first one has an account with 285 posts, and 15.8k followers, is subscribed to 342 accounts, and has nine amazing first pictures taken by a famous food and beverage photographer known for consistently edited visuals. On the second, with three posts, 164 followers, is following 2536 people, and the first and only three photos were clearly taken with a phone and not edited.
What I have found out by getting into this online dimension is that taking care of a professional Instagram account requires a lot more time than one would have initially thought. Doing it correctly and without “cheating” might mean a full-time job: a full salary that not all businesses can afford, particularly those that have just started. However, at the same time, rare are the brave consumers that would risk picking the second option with a poorly entertained account, ignoring the 15.8k people that considered the first option worth following. For most of us a known evil - is better than an unknown good.
Text & Illustration by Keila Urzaiz de Calignon