SOCi Restaurant Report Touts Localization as Key to COVID-Era Success

A new report from social media agency SOCi contends that a “localized” digital presence is a key indicator of success (or survival) for restaurants during the pandemic.

The reason? According to SOCi’s analysis, consumers are looking for the comfort of familiarity and high-quality customer-to-business relationships during the pandemic. And let’s face it. National brands aren’t known for their warm relationships with local communities. Those brands that are able to combine a more personal approach to customer communications with localized marketing can double their visibility compared to competitors.

“Large restaurant chains have been able to get by on reputation and foot traffic for a long time, but the pandemic has changed everything,” SOCi CMO Monica Ho told Localogy. “Consumers are looking for a more personal touch and rallying around businesses in their local communities. Restaurant brands, which have taken a hard hit during the pandemic, must adapt and deploy a localized digital strategy if they want to survive.”

SOCi’s focus is on helping multi-location brands do localized marketing. So what, exactly, is localized marketing? Essentially it’s a process that gives each individual location a unique identity so they can compete for authenticity (and visibility) with local independent businesses.  For example, with authentic social content posted at the individual location level. And it does so in an automated, scalable fashion.

Defining Localized Success

The SOCi report looked at the top 50 U.S. restaurant chains and assessed the effectiveness of their localized marketing. And then conveys lessons and best practices from the most successful companies.

Some common attributes of the most successful restaurant chains include:

  • Claimed the majority of their local listings and pages across Facebook, Google My Business, and Yelp
  • Completed local profiles
  • Engaged with local communities via social posting and responding to reviews.

Among all 50 restaurant chains analyzed, the average visibility score was 46 points out of 100. The top 10 restaurants overall, however, scored 70 points or higher. That’s almost twice the visibility and performance of the average restaurant. 

So what’s the benefit of the higher visibility? It generates greater local traffic and sales. This is because these brands’ maintained a strong localized presence for each of their locations across search, social, and the top ratings and reviews sites.

However, SOCi’s analysis SOCi contends there is still substantial room for improvement in restaurants’ local search results. This means appearing in Google 3-Pack results. 

SOCi recommends that brands build E.A.T. (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) into their local presence to improve ranking. To achieve this, SOCi suggests the following best practices:

  • Claiming and optimizing all local pages.
  • Posting timely and locally relevant posts.
  • Encouraging customers to leave reviews.
  • Actively managing local conversations and reviews by responding in a timely manner.


A Brutal Reckoning for Restaurants

SOCi’s report comes at a time when the stakes are very high for all restaurants, from local independent establishments to fast-food chains. Though different sectors within restaurants face differing levels of risk. The commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield recently estimated that as many as half of restaurants in some subcategories may fail this year because of COVID.

“Cushman predicts fine dining and fast-casual restaurants are at the greatest risk of failure, with an estimated 50% failure rate. [They are] followed by mid-range and casual dining with an estimated 25% failure rate. Cushman sees fast food as best positioned to succeed among the major restaurant categories. However, it predicts a 20% failure rate for fast food, reflecting the overall gloomy outlook for the industry. Sectors with some risk include the fast food and quick-service restaurants, which are experiencing some risk….The sectors with the least risk include food halls and ghost kitchens.”

The National Restaurant Association estimates that 100,000 restaurants have closed so far because of the pandemic. The NRA also estimates COVID will cost the industry $240 billion by year-end.

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