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Social Media Case Study: The Local Restaurant That Could

Company: West Cafe
Social Media Marketing Team: Lisa Peyton
Campaign Length: Six months, September 2008 – March 2009
Result: Up to a 34% Increase in Overall Restaurant Sales

SoMe Award Finalist 2009

The Challenge

The economic recession hit Portland small business owners hard in late summer and early autumn of 2008. Those offering “luxury” products or services were in an especially precarious position. West Café, a small upscale neighborhood restaurant, was particularly vulnerable to the economic downturn because it had only been open a few years and is located near Portland State University, where many neighborhood residents are more price-sensitive than elsewhere.

Owners Doug Smith and Sean Concannon (chef) knew their restaurant wouldn’t survive the winter if they didn’t do something significant to drive business. Even popular restaurants in higher traffic areas of Portland were closing or making deep cut-backs in hours and staff.

They had tried traditional advertising in the past – with mixed to mostly poor results – so they were ready to try something new with Internet marketing. However, a quick look at their web site and traffic stats made it astonishingly clear that their site was doing very little for them. The one page, flash-based site was only listed in search engine results for their brand. Analytics data showed they were lucky to get 5-10 visitors to the site per day, most arriving from a direct search of their web site domain – which implied these visitors were probably previous customers just looking for hours of operation or a phone number.

Additionally, West Café had been hosting live jazz twice a month on Saturdays and really wanted to expand to every Saturday for consistency, but the numbers just weren’t there to support it.

The Solution

Given a limited budget and time constraints, rebuilding the West Café web site was out of the question. Instead, social media addict (and West Café customer) Lisa Peyton decided to harness the power of social media to build buzz and drive business.

Creation of the West Café Blog

The West Cafe Blog was built using WordPress, which allowed for search engine optimization and easy content management. It was designed to match West Café’s branding, which was already established inside the restaurant and on its web site.

The West Cafe blog included daily drink specials and creative promotions.

The blog includes categories to support West Café’s offerings, help draw in customers, and provide a platform for keyword-rich copy. Regular columns include a weekly fresh sheet posted by the West Cafe pastry chef, special event announcements, a monthly jazz calendar and daily drink specials.

Getting the word out via Twitter

The blog was getting indexed by search engines and the site began picking up traffic very quickly. But that alone wouldn’t be enough to drive the kind of business West Café needed to be successful during an economic downturn.

Enter Twitter. Portland is regularly listed among the top five U.S. cities using Twitter, so it was an ideal platform for getting the word out about West Café. Moreover, Portland is a walkable city with a vibrant downtown where most Web 2.0-related events take place, making West Café a viable destination – and desirable since it offers fast, free Wi-Fi.

twitter-west

The West Cafe Twitter campaign included a daily drink special, upcoming

events and requests for feedback from frequent diners.

Peyton used the twitter ID @WestCafePDX to drive traffic to the blog by offering the city’s first-ever Twitter restaurant coupon!

twitter-couponThe link to the above coupon was posted on Twitter and helped to motivate the

Portland Twitter community to visit West Café.

She also targeted (and interacted with) key Portland tweeters, reached out to jazz fans, and created word-of-mouth buzz about the restaurant. In fact, many people who began following @WestCafePDX commented that they didn’t even know the restaurant existed before they were followed on Twitter!

Creative promotions across multiple social media platforms

Once the blog was up and running, it was time to get creative. In September, the presidential election was in full swing and dire economic predictions led the news. Peyton decided to use this news to their advantage. She proposed a tongue-in-cheek marketing blitz that drove unprecedented web traffic to West Café – and lots of happy drinkers and diners – through its doors.

They kicked this off with a Five-Point Plan to help Portlanders deal with the economic crisis. This included: 1) $10 Bail-Out Menu, 2) daily Dow Drink Deals, 3) Let Them Eat Cake mini-cupcake give-away 4) an Election-night extravaganza, and 5) a Bootleg Bash featuring Absinthe and retro-jazz with the rallying cry Party like it’s 1929!

The portion of the Five-Point Plan that drove the most web traffic was the Dow Drink Deal. Every single weekday, Sean Concannon created a drink special based upon how many points the Dow went up or down. Peyton wrote a short blog post about the drink of the day, optimized it for Portland Happy Hour searches, and then Tweeted about it that afternoon to alert potential customers.

Within just a few weeks, West Café was ranking within the first 15 Google search results for Portland Happy Hour! And, of course, many Portlanders got to try fun cocktails, great beer and fine wines at a discount.

 

The Twitter campaign drove daily traffic to drink specials,

which brought foot traffic into the restaurant.

 

The blog and Twitter account were also used to highlight live jazz events (which were expanded to every Saturday when the social media marketing campaign started). West Café was able to rank within the first 10 Google search results for Portland Jazz Bar. This has made it possible for the restaurant to sustain live jazz every Saturday night and build a regular following.

 

The Results

Stellar Traffic Stats

  • Web site traffic increased 500% from September to March
  • Page views increased 300% from September to March
  • Time on site increased by 25%
  • Traffic from search engines increased from 42% to 70%

Top Rankings

  • The number of pages indexed in the search engines increased from 27 to over 100.
  • Initially, West Cafe web pages were only showing in search for their branded terms.
  • The campaign received visibility in Google, MSN and Yahoo for over 30 targeted, non-branded keywords.
  • The campaign achieved rankings within the top 10 search results in Google for these key terms: Portland’s best dessert, Portland Jazz Club, Portland Jazz Bars, Downtown Portland Happy Hour, Portland Oregon Cafe, Portland OR Cafe.

Increased Sales

Total restaurant sales increased dramatically over the course of the campaign despite the region’s economic woes. Owner Sean Concannon had this to say about the effectiveness of the campaign: “We started this all in November and December and I can truly say business has been steady ever since the Election Party. This is due to the Internet promos. How to get factual numbers on this is hard, but I must say many places have closed their doors.”

The percentages below reflect the increase in sales revenue month over month starting with September as the baseline:

September – 100%

October – 12% increase

November – 32% increase

December – 26% increase

January – 25% increase

February – 34% increase

March – 20% increase

Unsolicited Press Coverage

While there wasn’t a budget for outreach to the press, West Café received exceptional coverage by local TV stations and print publications who heard about the restaurant’s promotions via Twitter. As any Public Relations pro knows, when the press starts tracking YOU down to do nice feature stories, your word-of-mouth buzz is good!

Within just a couple weeks of launching West Café’s Five-Point Plan, local NBC affiliate KGW-TV came by to do a feature on West Café. They profiled the Bail-Out Menu and the Dow Drink Deals in October 2008, speaking at length with Sean Concannon about how his restaurant was able to beat the economic woes facing many other Portland small businesses.

In December 2008, Oregon Business Magazine worked on a feature story for its January issue. KATU-TV’s morning show, AM Northwest featured West Café in February 2009.

Oregon Business Magazine heard about West Café’s innovative promotions through Twitter and wanted to learn more about how the restaurant was using social media to boost business.

 

 

 

This video shown on Portland news channel, KATU, features West Café Chef and Owner, Sean Concannon, preparing some of his favorite dishes including a fresh pineapple halibut and a Queen of Sheba chocolate torte.