How my restaurant reached 12k Instagram followers in 5 months

Disclaimer* Im aware there are many variables to having followers on social media that can render them useless. Largely, if acquired only for the sole purpose of leveraging the amount against appearing established, or for mere bragging rights, this is the case and it becomes a pointless pursuit. However, when opening Erpingham House back in May, i realised that if we could cultivate a community on the photo-sharing platform Instagram, we might just be able to hack our way to relevancy.

Building this community on Instagram has done a number of things for my business. Firstly, and most simply, its helped us showcase our offering to a substantial amount of people. It means that when we have something to shout about, and spend time crafting how we're going to deliver it, the effort doesn't go wasted. We've learnt the way to grow a following that participates the conversation & contributes voluntarily, is to incentivise them to do so & offer real value in exchange for their attention.

 Erpingham house, Norwich.

Erpingham house, Norwich.

We started by involving the world in the process of building the restaurant. We let people in, a behind-the-scenes view of everything that went on in the building process, from plastering walls to testing the dishes. We used key features, such as the voting poll on Instagram stories, to ask our audience what they would choose. Being consistent with this daily caused people to keep coming back and more new people to the fold. When people saw us take action on their decisions, it gave them ownership and made them feel part of the project, a sentiment later made clear when we overheard people comment "i voted for that."

Next, the interior itself. We know that part of the process for many when they go out now is to take lots of photos for social media, so why not give them something to take a photo of? Providing a number of "Instagrammable" photo opportunities throughout the venue is a win-win; people get their golden photo opportunity, we get user generated content to share on our platforms, and promotion to their network on theirs. By strategically placing such features (flower wall on entry, neon seat outside the ladies loo) we made capturing these shots easy.

 “User generated” content is king

“User generated” content is king

To give people a reason to follow & stay following, we have to offer value. Value for us comes in the form of 3 things; information, inspiration & entertainment. If we reverse engineer the needs & wants of our customers, given that they're patrons of us already, a healthy-eating restaurant, health facts are a really good way for us to help our customers learn more about healthy eating. Producing a short form video on how to make a smoothie at home, or an infographic on the benefits of one of our health shot components, gives our community relevant info whilst enforcing our position as an authority on the topic.

As our following grows, it further incentivises bloggers & Instagram users to feature us on their posts so that we might repost them, sharing their page with out community and helping them to reach more people. We've held a number of small events where we've set such things up, usually around a new menu or event launch, to help us spread the message. This is effectively free advertising, and allows us to leverage the following of "influencers" to showcase our news, whilst again increasing our reach & growing our community.

In an age of hospitality where budgets are tight & we need every ounce of return for our marketing pounds, utilising the power of narrative in real time on social media is a cost-effective, genuine way to create real customers and real relationships. I implore all small business owners to invest time in finding what works for them on Instagram and other platforms.