5 Ways to Maximize Instagram During the Coronavirus

Instagram marketing COVID-19

With bar/restaurant foot traffic virtually non-existent, it’s critical that restaurants stay connected with their customers through the Coronavirus via social media. Since everyone is stuck at home browsing their phones, now is the perfect time to reach them and promote your takeout, sell gift certificates, or simply wish them well amidst this trying time.

Creating an engaging presence on Instagram has never been easier or more attainable for the average bar/restaurant. If you’re unsure of where to start, services like MustHaveMenus offer free social media templates and sharing tools with ready-made, professional designs. Hundreds of these templates are designed exactly in response to the coronavirus crisis. All you need to do is develop the message that best suits you.

Beyond that, here are 5 ways you can maximize your establishment’s Instagram presence to connect with customers during the Coronavirus and beyond. 


1. Nail your Hashtags

Why are hashtags important? They help customers with no previous connection to your business find you. It allows people to explore Instagram by topic or keyword, so they can discover accounts they never would have encountered scrolling through their usual newsfeed.social media marketing COVID-19 coronavirus

When choosing hashtags, envision the type of audience you’d like to reach. What hashtags have you seen trending for bars/restaurants in your sector? Which ones do your competitors use? Are there opportunities to hop on a new trend as it swells in popularity? Striking gold with one good hashtag and post expose your Instagram to a massive audience.

With the closure of dine-in services, thousands of bars and restaurants have joined together on national hashtags to promote their takeout, carryout, and gift certificates. Hopping on hashtags like #TakeoutTuesday or #TakeoutTakeover is a great way to reach a large, targeted audience looking for your services.

Pro Tip: Rather than include your hashtags in the post itself, which can distract from your messaging, add them in the very first comment. They’ll still work exactly the same.


2. Get the Right Shot

Your food and drinks should be at the front and center of your Instagram page. The platform is tailor-made for showing off all your best-looking dishes. Plus an endless audience of foodies are ready to like and share the images that capture their imagination or stimulate their appetite.

At the end of the day, the quality of your food is the most important marketing tool at your disposal. Your Instagram content strategy should reflect that. Post photos of all your favorite dishes and any new ones you’re planning on adding to the menu. Then let the quality of your food photography drive takeout sales or build anticipation for your reopening.

There’s just one hurdle, though. As anyone who’s tried to immortalize a particularly impressive avocado toast for the ‘Gram will tell you, food photography is really hard.

Even the most beautiful dish can wind up as a gray and drab photo under poor light or against the wrong backdrop. On a platform that’s based upon the strength of your visuals, unappealing food imagery can torpedo your brand. For a generation saturated by commercials with professional, mouth-watering images of food, nothing will make your restaurant seem second-rate faster than food photography that looks like it was shot on a potato.

While it can be worthwhile to outsource the food imagery on your website and menu to a professional, that’s not necessarily financially feasible in the current climate and when you’re posting multiple photos a week to Instagram. To create consistent content, you or someone on your staff must learn how to snap a photograph that flatters your food, rather than vice versa.marketing social media COVID-19 coronavirus

Here are some simple tips that can turn the most helpless food photographer into a passable one:

  1. Use natural light. Nothing beats the sun at highlighting shadows to help your food jump off the page.
  2. Experiment with angles. It’s hard to know exactly which angle will best show off your food without trying out multiple of them first. You’ll know after the first couple which work, and which don’t.
  3. Use filters. Applying a filter is the easiest way to take a photo from blah to bangin’, so flip through the preset Instagram filters until you find the most flattering one.
  4. Invest in basic equipment. Unless you have the hand steadiness of a surgeon, a tripod is a relatively cheap solution to blurry photos. It also allows you to shoot overhead videos (more on that later). If you’re really serious, a better lens can make a world of difference for your depth and color.
  5. Don’t get frustrated. Your photographs probably will never look as good as the food imagery you’re used to seeing in commercials. That’s OK. Those are generally shot with the most expensive equipment, and often times, the food isn’t even real. It’s an artificial creation optimized for photography. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get your images to pop in the same way. It’s an unrealistic standard.


3. Mix Online with In-Store Marketing

To optimize your Instagram page, you need to weave it together with your other marketing efforts. Adding links to your Instagram account on your website and other social platforms like Facebook and Pinterest should be your first step. The next step involves the use of more traditional marketing materials.

While your Instagram promotes your restaurant, your restaurant should also promote your Instagram. Once you get customers through the door for takeout or curbside pickup, you can nudge them towards your social media with traditional marketing materials like flyers, rack cards, and business cards. Sometimes customers simply need a reminder to check out your page.

Post a flyer in your window or place a rack card on your counter for some subtle yet effective marketing. Every touch point further establishes the credibility of your Instagram account and increases the odds they’ll check you out.

Pro Tip: Incentivize Instagram engagement with promos and giveaways. You can promise a free appetizer to anyone who posts about your food, or you can enter every new follower into a drawing for free meals and merch.


4. Produce Tasty-style Videos

At this point, everyone’s stumbled upon a Tasty video while mindlessly surfing social media. It starts with an overhead shot of a finished dish to pique interest (and appetites). Then the dish is deconstructed step-by-step.

With over a hundred million followers across their accounts, the Tasty web series has more views than any other video series in the entire history of video. A big reason for Tasty’s success is how well the videos work on social media platforms, especially Instagram. While most bar/restaurants can’t hope to replicate Tasty’s incredible success, every venue can copy the formula to produce content that’s proven to engage followers and drive views. All you need is a decent camera and a recipe that you don’t mind sharing with the public.

Some restaurants are packaging together the ingredients from their most famous dishes and selling them as meal kits. A Tasty-style video accompaniment would a be a fun way to market it and break down the cooking process.

Pro Tip: Trying playing with the tempo to speed up the monotonous parts of recipes and enhance the most visually-appealing parts. All video software comes with temp controls. Speeding up the video makes the content quickly digestible as people scroll by.


5. Pull Back the Curtain

If there’s one benefit from all the restaurant closures, it’s customers seeing the humans behind the businesses they frequent. Never has it been more important to tell your story and the story of your employees.

By using Instagram to pull back the curtain on your restaurant, you can humanize your business and build a connection with your customers that goes beyond the purely transactional nature of your relationship. Customers want to support local restaurants now, and showing them the human lives they can affect adds a huge amount of extra incentive.

If you’re planning on posting it to your feed, put some time into planning and thinking through the video before you shoot it. If you just want to have some fun, though, and post funny, candid videos, then Instagram stories is perfect! The video disappears after 24 hours, so it’s perfect for ephemeral or off-the-cuff content that’s not polished enough to be permanently hosted on your feed.

Unsure of what kind of behind-the-scenes videos your customers want to see? Here are some ideas to get you brainstorming:

  • Employee profiles: Help your customers get to know your employees with employee spotlights. Interview the chef as he prepares his favorite. Find out why your waitstaff loves serving your community. These videos inform customers of all the amazing people responsible for delivering a great dining experience, and it establishes your business as one that cares about the individuals who make it special.
  • Exposes: Highlight your sustainable practices and community outreach to illustrate the goals and standards you hold that don’t directly involve your bottom line.
  • Testimonials: Give your customers a voice. Let them advocate for you with short clips of them expressing what they love most about your food, drinks, and business.
Pro Tip: Make sure the videos have subtitles. The vast majority of people watching these clips will be doing so without the volume on. Subtitles enable them to still get the gist. Plus, Google and other search engines prioritize subtitled videos because they’re more accessible.

By Mark Plumlee, who writes about food industry trends and topics. Trail Blazers fan by day, sleeping dude by night.

Photos (top to bottom): Eaters Collective on Unsplash; Jon Tyson on Unsplash; S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash.