Why social media can’t solve all your problems

Consider this case study of how a pizza restaurateur could use social media—and why it isn’t a quick fix or a cure all for a poorly performing business.

Recently, I came across this request from a pizza parlor owner on one of the business mentoring groups I participate in.

I’ve tweaked it for privacy:

I own a pizza parlor in a busy food court in a Chicago mall, and I’m trying my best to keep afloat. I think social media is going to be the key to my success. I want to become a social media maven and use it to advertise for free. Any social media mentors willing to help me, please get in touch.

Unfortunately, this business owner is under the influence of social media. He believes it is the answer to all his problems though he has no understanding of how it works.

He’s forgotten how to make good business decisions.

This particular pizza parlor is located in a busy mall. Busy mall equals hungry shoppers and foot traffic. Why would he choose to ignore the people walking past his pizza parlor for the allure of social media?

Of course, he can ultimately use social media, but not in the way he thinks—and he has a lot of work to do before he can even consider turning to social media. For now, the best place for this business owner is behind the pizza counter rather than behind his computer.

Thinking outside the pizza box

A great starting point for any business considering social media efforts is thinking about “what you know” and “what you have”—and then focus on “what you need.”

Let’s assume this pizza entrepreneur knows how to make great tasting pizza and can deliver it efficiently to his customers. What he has is foot traffic and free competitive intelligence.

His objective is to turn those feet towards his pizza parlor by using the competitive intelligence around him. He is within sight of all his competitors. He can see how busy they are, who their target customers are, their busy periods and so much more.

What he needs is people to try his pizza and convert to customers.

A clearly defined audience

Of course, I don’t have insight into the competitive intelligence. But even without it, I can make assumptions to identify his target customers clearly.

Remember, the trick is to specialize—not to try and sell to everybody, even in a busy mall.

He could target three specific audiences:

  1. Families with children—parents shopping with their children
  2. Mall staff—anyone who works in the mall, shop managers, salespeople, etc.
  3. Office workers—people who work in nearby offices

Being different is good

Now that he has a clear target audience, he can create marketing programs for each.

However, he should first differentiate his pizza parlor from competitors and implement a taste-test strategy.

Here are suggestions on how he can be different:

  • Provide the friendliest and best customer service possible
  • Hire charismatic staff who will engage with customers
  • His employees should look like they love making pizza
  • Create an atmosphere of fun and high energy
  • Create a party-like atmosphere; it can be infectious
  • Clean the place until it sparkles
  • Ensure employees look good; uniforms pressed, hairnets neatly tied, etc.

Try before you buy

A good tactic for anyone selling consumables is the try-before-you-buy strategy.

Just ask Costco. Their customers are obsessed with free samples. According to a former Costco executive, samples of a certain frozen pizza brand helped boost sales by 600 percent.

Here’s how the pizza restaurateur could target his audience:


For families, you need two things:

  1. A kids’ special that rocks
  2. A value-add

Here are some value-add ideas at different price points:

  • Choice of brightly colored drinking cups
  • A small box of crayons
  • A photocopied picture of a pizza for coloring

Mall staff

The mall workers need to eat, too—and they usually eat during off-peak hours. Take this opportunity to offer a special deal for mall staff only—possibly a buy-one-get-one-free deal.

Office workers

Pizza lunches are very popular with office workers. They’re quick and easy to order, clean up and the price is right. You could create a corporate lunch special for nearby businesses.

Now it’s time for social media

After all of this, the pizza seller can use social media.

Not as a quick-fix for his problems (which rarely works), but to enhance his solid marketing efforts to date.

He finally has something more to share on social media than “Please buy my pizza!”

He has a smart, well-run, party-style pizza parlor. There are children eating and loving his pizza while happy parents are enjoying a minute of peace. There are plenty of corporate customers, too.

Now, it’s time to build his social media strategy, focusing on how he is different. It should be built on the success of his foot traffic tactics. It targets the different groups he has already identified.

Social isn’t the hail mary or a desperation tactic he should turn to first. Rather, it’s the component that rounds out and reinforces his other activities.

Sharon Miller helps small businesses with strategic advice on structuring, messaging, and positioning their business. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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