Are you familiar with foodstagramming? You know, when people at restaurants snap photographs of food–be it an artfully arranged stack of macaroons or an especially well-plated entrée–and upload the pics to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Even if you didn’t know the term, most people have experienced the foodstagramming phenomenon in some form or fashion as social networks and apps have made it easier than ever for average people to consider themselves professional food photogs.
So, you can imagine the shock and horror of many a consumer-cum-food paparazzo upon reading the recent New York Times piece, “Restaurants Turn Camera Shy,” which detailed both restaurant owners’ and chefs’ growing wariness of the foodstagramming trend, resulting in some restaurants banning the practice all together.
But whether restaurateurs like it or not, the rise of social media has made user-generated visuals an integral part of marketing in the food business and beyond. In the past year, we’ve seen Facebook acquire Instagram, Pinterest drive more sales than any other social network, and visual memes dominate our social feeds. The visual social web isn’t going anywhere–and brands need to learn to embrace it.
The restaurant owners and chefs who argue that foodstagramming distracts patrons and takes away from the experience of dining at their establishments demonstrate why some brands are afraid of user-generated content: directly or indirectly, they’re forced to relinquish some of the control over how consumers experience their brand.
But, consider the benefits. Consumers are more likely to trust information, visual or otherwise, that comes from other consumers as opposed to directly from the brand. Those restaurant patrons snapping pics of their meals and sharing on Facebook are actually doing the marketing for the restaurant while also adding credibility to the message. Not to mention, people are so inundated with choices when it comes to everything from making a dinner reservation to buying a new dress to booking a hotel, another consumer’s photo can actually let them SKIP a thousand words to quickly make a purchasing decision.
User-generated photos are also a treasure trove of consumer data. Brands can see directly into the minds of the consumers, allowing them to better tailor their offerings to what consumers like and want.
So, what’s a brand to do? A business’s best bet is to come up with co-creation strategies that encourage and invite consumers to share how they experience a brand–through photos, videos, blogs, and otherwise. For example, restaurants could put their Twitter handle, Instagram name, and any proprietary hashtags right on the menu. This way, customers who do take photos can easily tag the restaurant, improving SEO rankings and brand recognition. Not to mention, restaurants can begin building a repository of consumer data, while gaining more followers on social channels all the while.
With the rise of social media, companies must be able to distill their brand promise down into visuals that can be easily shared and digested amongst consumers, and who better to help brands do that than the consumers themselves?