FM sat down with Boston University’s Scott Rosario, Marketing Director, and Robert Flynn, New Media Coordinator, to discuss BU Dining Services’ social media strategy.
Q: What is your social media strategy?
A: We want to use Social Media to be engaged with our community and enhance their dining experience. We want to have a presence in every medium that our guests are using to communicate or search for information.
Q: Can you tell us about the background of your use of social media?
Social media is still very new for Dining Services. We started using Facebook and have expanded into other programs based on what we see our community using. Our first experiences with how we can engage with our community through Facebook were with student created pages about dining services. We found a fan page dedicated to one of our cashiers who students really enjoyed interacting with. This page had several hundred fans and the comments on the page were all very positive regarding the experiences that students had with the cashier. This was the beginning of how we saw Facebook as a forum for students to communicate about and with Dining Services. Our Facebook pages started with one or two of our largest dining locations on campus and have expanded. In January of 2011, we added a new member to the marketing team whose responsibilities include the coordination and management of our social media presence. The New Media Coordinator has created Facebook pages for each of our dining locations on campus and manages the primary Twitter account for dining services.
Today we use social media to educate and inform students about options and programming that dining services provides as well as a way for our community to reach out to us with feedback and suggestions about the dining program.
Q: From a business standpoint, how does social media add value?
A: It adds that instant feedback/reaction that we crave sometimes in the foodservice world. The days of filling out a comment card and putting it in a suggestion box are long gone. Customers want an answer as quickly as they asked it. So the value is that we know exactly what’s happening in different locations across campus any time of day or night when a student sends us a comment or suggestion.
Q: How has your social media strategy changed?
Social Media in College Foodservice is really different than most other areas. We let the Media. Are we setting trends in the Social Media world, not as much, but within College Foodservice, we can’t be rivaled at the engagement we have with our students, and the access they have to us to help us make changes as to better suit them.
Q: What are the benefits of Facebook? and of Twitter?
A. Facebook is another tool to showcase what we do on campus, another outlet to speak with the students. I would have to say Twitter has been our best tool within the Social Media world. Here is where you have that instant feedback, that instant conversation with a student. Last semester we sent out over 2,000 tweets, about 85% of those were re-tweets or responses to students questions, that means we had over 1,700 conversations with the BU community. You can’t beat that! Our Twitter account is rolling 7 days a week. A BU student knows that when they tweet at us, they get a response within 10 minutes.
I make it a point to “follow” as many students as possible on Twitter. Right now we have close to a 1,000 followers, and it’s growing daily, but we are also following over 800 people. You see celebrities that have millions of fans but they are only following 20 people. In College Foodservice you have to be out there, those 800 students we follow that’s 800 conversations that we’re privy to, and if someone mentions Dining, we can join the conversation.
Q: Do you use other forms of social media?
A: We’re starting to get into FourSquare, again, the students use the heck out of it, so we should too. We honor Mayorships across campus and we get that repeat customer, it’s a win-win.
Q: How has social media helped your operation?
A: We’re not your father’s college cafeteria anymore and social media has helped us show that. We have a sense a humor, we talk, we open up, we give them access. No more is there a wall between the students and dining. They want to know everything that’s going on, so we let them know.
BU is a huge campus, we have over 20 different dining locations on campus, with social media we know if the soup tasted funny at one end of campus, or someone loved the new deli at the other end, or if they just want to say how much they love a certain cashier. In years past we couldn’t see all of that.
Q: Do you use social media to promote specials?
A: Yes, you have to, but you don’t want to be too pushy. Students are keen if all you do is tell them about a sale, or push a location; they get bored and become uninterested in you. You have to pick certain times to do it and you have to have good content, so that when you send out a message, people will enjoy reading it. Humor is key to a lot of the content we use, the students enjoy it, but it also gets our message across to them. Again, you let your customers dictate how things are presented.
Q: How does your SM strategy align with your overall marketing strategy?
A: Our goal is for the students to have the most enjoyable dining experience possible on campus, and to also boost sales.
Q: How does your social media strategy contribute to the greater goals of the organization?
A: With everything we do in social media, each component contributes on some level. We get the feedback we look for, we give the access the students want, we boost sales where we need to, and we entertain where necessary.
Q: What are some of the drawbacks of social media from your perspective as a foodservice director?
A: At the touch of a button 1000’s of customers can know about a bad dining experience. Sometimes before you can even explain why it happened. But, we put ourselves in that position, so there’s no going back.
Q: What are some challenges associated with social media?
A: Like with any relationship, you have to keep your partner interested. So coming up with a creative contest, or content so as to not get boring is a challenge. But it’s a welcomed challenge because that’s what also keeps us interested in what we’re doing everyday. We also reach out to the students and ask for help, there’s nothing wrong with asking them what you should do. Again, our relationship with them is strong enough that we can do that.
Q: What’s next for BU in the realm of social media?
A: We have this captured audience for four years that we have to constantly engage with content and not be boring, but also be educational, and bottom line savvy. So our next realm of social media will be up to our students and what they decide we should do and what we should use.