There are four marketing steps that start from piquing their interest to making them a loyal customer. Social media can be used at all stages of the marketing cycle.
Attribution: Flickr - opportplanet
1: The Interest
I was working with the owner of an Ethiopian Restaurant to help promote his business. Part of the problem was that most people's idea of Ethiopian Cuisine is that bad joke Have you ever tried Ethiopian Food? Well neither have the Ethiopians. So the first step is to get people interested in the idea of trying Ethiopian food, which is delicious, healthy and has a whole dining culture associated with it.
Attribution: Flickr - Simon Cunningham
This is where content marketing comes in. You don't promote the restaurant you promote the food and culture. Physically you can put posters in the restaurant window describing Ethiopian food and in social media you blog about the food, or even create videos. I used the example of Ethiopian food because it has its own unique culture and style that is absolutely fascinating.
2: Getting them in
One of the interesting things about where this African restaurant was located was that there were many African restaurants and shops, yet many people who lived in the local area never went into any of them.
Attribution: Flickr - Caden Crawford
So this is the trick, getting people to come in to a shop or restaurant. This is far easier with events and sales than if you provide the same service all year round.
We were able to fill the restaurant up through two methods. First there was an African Community Event and we leveraged meetup.com to bring a group of about 30 people into this smallish restaurant to enjoy Ethiopian food and have an introduction of the culture by the owner, which went very well. Now 30 doesn't sound like a big number, but I know many of them brought their friends back on other days and several thousand people would have read both the description of the restaurant and seen followup photos and feedback.
Remember with Social Media the importance is engagement in depth, not superficial engagement with many like you would with TV or radio.
3: Making a purchase
The third stage was getting people to buy. If someone was to walk into an African grocery store, most local people would have no idea what ingredients to buy and what to with them. The same with an African restaurant, personally I have no idea what is the classic or interesting dishes to try from Ethiopia.
Attribution: Flickr - 401(K) 2012
If people are in a shop you can engage with them directly. I always think of the idea of providing recipes at grocery stores give people an idea about what they can purchase or for the Ethiopian Restaurant they started putting on sampler platters which make it easy for someone like myself who has little idea about Ethiopian food to order.
Social media can come in as well, because it can be used to inform the customer before they even think of arriving. Blogging with recipes or recommendations about what to order help people make a purchase when they are in the store.
4: Getting them back
The final stage is getting people to come back, bring their friends and make recommendations. For restaurants an old favourite can be providing a discount coupon for the next time they return but we can update it for the social media era. Why not provide a discount offer for anyone who shares a photo on Facebook or other social media accounts so that they are promoting their experience to their friends.
Don't go social media crazy
Many social media marketing "Experts" seem to believe that all other forms of marketing and promotion are dead, but this may be that they have little experience in them. We can't ignore all our other forms of promotion but we can engage more deeply with audiences by using social media.