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Top 10 social and digital predictions for 2013

10 min read


Facebook falls

Had Facebook not been the social behemoth that it is, most people would have probably bailed on this promiscuous social network that assumes we are OK with them selling ads based on our actions. The reality is that Facebook will prevail again, but in a way that may not be suitable for the restaurant business. Filtering messages to our own fans is slightly below censorship. If a consumer likes us, then who is Facebook to say why we can’t speak to them?

Mark Cuban made his stance very clear when he publicly commented on how ludicrous it is that Facebook would charge him $3,000 to reach 1 million fans. As a result, Cuban has said The Mavs and the 70 other companies he’s invested in will be moving to Twitter as a primary outreach platform.

Birth of the social chef

For decades, chefs have been artisans when it comes to understanding what consumers want. The rise of the celebrity chef has put today’s consumers in a place where they feel they can reach out and be in the kitchen right alongside the chefs. This is the year where regional, local chefs will move into the social media limelight. Consumers are breaking down the walls and reaching the back of the house. No longer is the GM or the maître d’ sufficient as a means of interacting with diners. Instead, part of the experience of a great restaurant is the connection to the creative hands.

With this rise of chef transparency through digital and social platforms, DigitalCoCo will be rolling out a Chef Social Media Index in the first quarter of 2013, which will rank chefs around the world by their influence and impact on social channels. This index is comparable to DCC’s existing Restaurant Social Media Index, but instead of ranking brands, it will rank the actual chefs.

Fast casual becomes chef-driven

Fast casual has long been the darling of the restaurant business. Despite the less-than-stellar economy, Technomic reported that just a year ago, fast casual restaurants were raking in $27 billion in annual sales, and are still growing. Technomic also reported that fast casuals will continue to outpace the industry over the next five years, and is expected to compound 8% annually.

In 2013, the evolution of this segment is finally upon us. Chef-driven concepts, much like the food trucks of the past few years, will become more commonplace in fast casual. This could hold the key to how consumers enter the culinary world and develop an interest in fine cuisine and the work of top chefs. Bobby Flay, Rick Bayless, Danny Meyer and dozens of other notable chefs venturing into the server-less model of fast casual are already spearheading this motion.

The real potential for growth will lie in the masses of more than 50,000 independent chefs who begin to trek into this ripe consumer-driven segment. Restaurants such as Los Angeles-based Tender Greens, San Francisco-based Roam Artisan Burgers, Miami-based The Cheese Course, and even fringe concepts ready to make the leap such as Duckfat and Eventide Oyster Co. of Portland, Maine, are just the tip of the iceberg.

This culinary explosion of a movement has spurred my creation of Fast Casual Nation, a documentary series that is moving into its second season with another 12 episodes featuring the new concepts that are sure to stand out on the fast casual landscape.

Mobile consumers meld with mobile brands

Consumers are still outpacing the restaurant business with more needs for mobile solutions than ever before, a trend that is reflected in our 2012 Restaurant Mobile Social Consumer Report. As Android takes over the position of reigning Mobile King in 2013, and the onslaught of Google iOS apps that outperform the iOS apps themselves (Mail, Maps, Search, Browser), the function of search and the connection of Google and Zagat will become a reality in 2013.

Restaurants without mobile responsive websites or clear mobile strategies will start to feel the pressure they felt two years ago when they were not on Twitter or Facebook. The difference here is that mobile becomes habit-forming with consumers, as we reported in our recent study. This has big impact as consumers will have less tolerance for restaurant operators in a non-mobile world. The search for convenience is becoming a very real process of consumer restaurant decisions, meaning most consumers who perform a search on big platforms such as Google aren’t likely to delve deep into searches, but will go by what they click on first.

Twitter becomes the Food FAQ system

In the social media war, Twitter is the winner in 2013. With suppression and privacy obstacles putting a burden on Facebook, Twitter will keep tweetin’ along. The question is, will it become a media company before it becomes a feedback system? Maybe it won’t matter if we can get the 1 million restaurants in the U.S. on Twitter, which would equate to about 10 billion digital actions in 2013 alone.

Expect brands, chefs and operators to connect on Twitter for FAQ, feedback and maybe even reservations in 2013. I am aware of at least two skunk works operations that are working to develop a Twitter-based restaurant reservation system. Oh, but wait … what if Google, Zagat and Twitter team up? Ahh, you get the picture now. Facebook may be at risk of becoming insignificant with food-based tweeting on the rise.

Google’s acquisition of Zagat packs much power, so it will be interesting to see how the developments of social over the next year will bank on this two-punch powerhouse. The new Google maps has already integrated Zagat ratings into its service, which also allows consumers to make reservations — all with the touch of a finger.

 Content marketing becomes a major play for restaurants

Recent data from our Social Consumer Trends study reveals that consumers are getting sick — digitally, that is — of restaurants using social as a promotion engine. Though it is definitely the easy way out for operators, it’s also the easy opt-out for consumers, as more than 14% of consumers abandon brands that have a high promotion basis in social. Armed with the trend, 2013 will be the year that savvy brands amp up their content and step into the world of content marketing.

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute confirms that content marketing has been at the top of marketers’ strategic priorities, and continues to be, with 9 out of 10 organizations using content marketing. Stats pulled from a CMI report also show that 60% of B2B marketers plan to increase their content marketing spend in 2013.

The sad part about content marketing for brands is the loss of Instagram in 2012 as an innovative company that could have created an evolution in interactive photography and social, wrapped in a package that feels like a gift every time you see it. With Instagram being scooped up by the privacy bully of social, its fate is less than stellar. Since the Twitter feud, the ability to use Instagram as a neutral territory for photos has passed.

Boutique hotels get a boost

Boutique hotels are breaking into a strong position of culinary hotspots with the likes of Kimpton Hotels, Commune Hotels, Joie de Vivre Hotels and others, taking a serious look at making food as much of a focus as the hotel experience. The segment is registering a drop in social consumer sentiment based on service and food. What’s even more important is that the demographic of boutique hotel users just so happens to be some of the most active social media users on the planet.

With boutique hotels experiencing an upturn through 2012 and well into 2013, in part because of this sector’s resiliency in the current market, it’s going to become vital for these hotels to be as transparent as possible. This ability to be more hands-on and intimate with their customers is a big factor in consumer sentiment toward these smaller hotels, but it’s all reliant on proper execution. If the boutique space understands what’s happening right in front of their eyes, they may have the keys to formatting the way social interaction of the future occurs with the Super Users of Social.

Casual dining reignites

Casual dining has been losing traction to the fast-paced growth of fast casual for the past four years, and 2012 was no different. The trends for 2013, however, show that consumers are beginning to see the lines blurring when it comes to fast casual and casual, with social actions referring to value as a huge point in the latter half of 2012. With more than 1,200 casual entities in our Restaurant Social Media Index, the consumer impact on casual dining could begin to see a shift with new offerings that begin to strip the fast casual zeal. The predicted increase of wine and beer consumption by as much as 8% in 2013 bodes well for the success of casual dining; most fast casual operations don’t offer the libation love.

Super local fights off brand invasions

Local chefs and operators will be our celebs of 2013 with growth in culinary awareness by millions of Gen Y consumers. Local sourcing and local support of these businesses, combined with a search for value and experience, are expected to see a surge in local startup concepts. Kickstarter has spawned a whole new era of community and financial support that might just create a hometown feel for many operators that challenge the incoming multi-unit chains.

Kickstarter and other local crowd-funding sites allow the public to donate money toward a project, such as a new restaurant or food truck. There are no stable rewards of investing in a project, aside from good will and the chance that donors will get to experience the project once it reaches its financial goals and comes to fruition. This transparency, trust and localization are all qualities of what social and digital media has become and where it continues to expand.

With local and social colliding in 2013, the edge may go to the local operators who connect to the new era of social consumers over multi-unit brands that are trying to break down local market strategies.

The brand social platform era begins

We have spent the last eight years amassing followers, friends, liking posts, pins, photos, videos and more across a massive amount of social networks. Consumers are showing signs of social fatigue, but not the type you think. The fatigue comes from consumers who believe that their content should belong to them, not their network. As we face a very complicated issue in 2013 of who owns the content, the breakdown of social ads may collide with consumer appeal. This will leave a void and create opportunities for new communities that make it easy to connect with friends and fans.

The likes of Starbucks and Red Bull are already at critical mass when it comes to digital audience, and could make the leap to a brand-based social platform. The next five years could bring the migration of social audience to new, enticing branded platforms. Social has served us well and will continue into the future. Consumers will take more control back from the likes of Facebook and flock to companies that allow them to socialize without the risk of becoming food for advertisers. This will be an interesting process involving Big Data, platforms and content, all of which now exist for the brands in a way like never before.

Paul Barron is a Web entrepreneur who launched several successful restaurant and hospitality trade websites, events and think tanks. He is credited with starting the fast casual restaurant revolution when he launched in the 1990s. He is the founder of DigitalCoCo, a social media analytics and creative agency in South Florida.