Everyone has a camera now, and plenty of apps and filters to make their shots look perfect. As a restaurant owner, this is great news for you. Social media — primarily Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — provide a continuous source for free, user-generated word-of-mouth advertising.


In addition to customers sharing pictures of their meals, however, knowing what to post on your own business social media accounts is key to making use of the free promotion. Utilizing Instagram to share information about your menu, specials, community involvement and more is a great way to get potential diners involved.


Make a Human Connection

Use the photos on your Instagram account to tell a story. People connect to human interest stories, so it is important to give your followers some kind of human connection in your posts. What inspired the chef to create a new dish is more interesting than its ingredients, in many cases. Also consider stories outside of the cuisine. Talk about the people involved in building and running the restaurant, and offer a look at their lives through your images.  


Create and Promote Your Own Hashtags

With the prevalence of social media today, your hashtag is almost as important as the name of your business. Create a unique hashtag that tells people who and what you are, but beware of hashtags that are too long or too difficult to spell. In some cases, the name is plenty, but in others a short, catchy phrase may be more appropriate. Once you create the hashtag, make sure to use it on every post. Also encourage customers to use it by including it on menus, advertisements and in-restaurant signage.


Reward Customers for Sharing Their Experience

Many restaurants simply use signage to encourage customers to share their visit on Instagram and other social media channels. Others offer discounts or free items for customers who share photos. Consider investing in the technology to display photos posted with your hashtag on in-store monitors in real time. Another approach is to host a monthly photo contest and offer gift certificates to the best photo posted and tagged with your hashtag each month.


Get Outside The Dining Room

Sure, you’re going to post plenty of pictures of perfectly plated entrees and delicious desserts that make mouths water. Food is at the heart of the restaurant business. But don’t overlook the other things that go on in your restaurant. Show the back-of-house staff, private party set-ups, and special events on your Instagram, as well.


Introduce New Items and Promote Specials

Just like any other advertising platform, Instagram can be used to promote specials and introduce new food items. But unlike radio advertising or billboards, you can give your followers an up-close-look at the items on Instagram. Also encourage staff and customers to share their photos and reviews of the items via social media.


Promote Local Events and Build Community Connections

Share posts promoting events sponsored by local nonprofits and community organizations, and make sure you take plenty of shots at the event, as well. If you participated as a business, it is a great chance to show your community involvement. Even if you didn’t, consider sharing a few of your best shots and congratulate the organizers on another great event. When you prove to be a supportive member of your community, you’ll receive the same type of support in return.


Make Followers Feel Like Part of an Exclusive Club

Patrons and potential customers follow a business’s Instagram account because they want to keep up with what is going on in your restaurant, and to be able to interact with you. To show your appreciation, offer special deals to followers by posting discounts that require “liking” or commenting on the post.


Instagram gives restaurant owners and managers a number of free, easy ways to advertise. Photos work better than the text-only posts used in some social media networks, and Instagram utilizes hashtags so you can ensure all users can tag your business in their posts from the restaurant. Follow these tips to get the most value from Instagram and other photo-based social network posts.