Do you tweet whilst you eat? How food and drink brands are experimenting with social media

Tweeting for free drinks? Photo-sharing for free food? Earning positive reviews and ‘shares’ on social media are becoming so important to brands that they are rewarding customers with meals on the house.

Weight Watchers recently opened a pop-up café in London, the Feel Good Café, where customers who share a photo of, or write a favourable post about, their food can settle the bill for free. Similarly, Birds Eye’s recent London pop-up let customers pay for a two-course meal by sharing a photo on Instagram and typing #BirdsEyeInspirations.

These brands are tapping into a trend which is seeing more and more people use social media to show and tell their friends about their food. Research from Flowtown shows that 49% of consumers learn about food through social networks and according to Digital Insights, 57% of the content shared on Pinterest is food-related.

The benefits of achieving publicity across social media should be obvious, yet some are still slow to realise the benefits. In fact, some US restaurants have even banned smartphones, while several French restaurants are considering following suit. Their reasons are varied – some chefs fear that their dishes will be copied if they are pictured online, some fear low-resolution smartphone cameras could reduce the image quality and some complain that the photographers disturb other customers.

Of course, there are some well-established restaurants and fast-food outlets that can survive on reputation alone, but there are also many that pay the price for failing to innovate using social media and digital. US pizza restaurant chain Sbarro filed for bankruptcy in March – the brand has more than 1,000 retail outlets in shopping malls worldwide, but failed to adapt while the mall’s other shops increased their online presence in the face of falling visits.

A number of  food and drink brands have demonstrated original ideas using social media and digital technology, as we’ve previously discussed on the blog. Starbucks has launched a Tweet-A-Coffee service and mobile payments, Cadbury has used 3D printing to create edible prototypes and KitKat has crowdsourced new flavours.  Restaurants have got in on the act too, with novel ideas such as providing edible QR codes to check for mislabeled food, or giving customers tablets to create their own cocktails – with the chance to earn commission if others subsequently buy the drink.

Some ideas will prove a hit and some won’t, but they will all earn good publicity – on independent websites and social media – at the very least. And this is where food and drink brands can quickly reach new customers and millennials in particular – according to Flowtown, 47% of millennials text and tweet while they eat.