When Matt Levine was opening Sons of Essex, a restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side last fall, he decided to use YouTube to promote the establishment and its menu.
"We live in a society where information travels fast, and the entertainment value and visual stimulation of videos seemed like a great way to get a creative and innovative message to our guests," he says.
The success of Sons of Essex's videos can be a lesson to other small businesses. While restaurants have an advantage in that the things they purvey—food and drinks—are pretty universally appealing, many industries can benefit from creating videos.
Mashable spoke with Levine, a creative partner at Brandsway Creative and co-owner of Cocktail Bodega and Sons of Essex, about his business’ use of YouTube and other social media as marketing tools. Here are his tips for business success on YouTube
1. Use your resources. Many small businesses shy away from video because it’s more labor-intensive than a tweet or a photo. But it doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time or money. That iPhone you have in your pocket all day is a perfectly good video camera. While you can dish out some money for a tripod, a mic and some lenses, you can also go for the handheld look and set the footage to music, so a mic is unnecessary and sound quality isn’t an issue.
"Our videos are super low budget, from using bloggies to iPhones," Levine says. "All of our 'How to Make…' videos feature our charismatic staff—no actors, no fluff. They’re real employees." Levine says many of these employees are learning how to edit and produce video themselves, having been in on the production process for Sons of Essex's videos.
When you consider the rise of Viddy and Socialcam, you’ll notice that video editing has become much more democratized, and there is a slew of apps that let you edit video right on your smartphone. The preeminent video platform YouTube has made it easier than ever to edit video right in the platform, eliminating the need to buy and learn how to use tools like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere. The iMovie app on Apple OS X is also an easy, non-technical and low-budget way to splice together footage.
2. Find friends to promote your brand. A little star power is always a good thing. If you’re lucky enough to have celebrities or influential people as customers, see if they’ll throw you a bone and help promote the restaurant on-camera. Levine says a majority of the cameos and people in the "Lower East Side is..." video (such as Padma Lakshmi) are friends of the restaurant who live or hang out in the neighborhood.
By building relationships with local residents and business owners, the Brandsway team has created a coalition, and the partnerships it’s formed have yielded positive results. Sons of Essex is getting involved in the neighborhood and cross-promoting with other businesses, often collaborating on products and events that lend themselves well to video content.
3. Let video break the news. Instead of having the video be an ancillary component of your message, make it the vehicle of the message. If you’re opening a new location or adding a new product to the menu, use a video to make the announcement, and tease it on social media platforms without giving people the story. This will incentivize customers to click through and watch the video, so they’ll learn the news and recognize that your brand is a source of good content, which can keep them coming back. Sons of Essex introduced its brunch with this video.
4. Get to know the local bloggers. Once you’ve made a video, you want people to see it. Of course, you’ll post it on to your Twitter and Facebook pages, but you should also seed it to local bloggers, who are always looking for good content to post.
The Lower East Side has several blogs in the area, including BoweryBoogie and The LoDown, and these outlets have picked up videos by Sons of Essex. Nabbing coverage in local blogs gets the word out to potential customers, while also bolstering community pride. Who doesn't want to support her local businesses?
5. Video is just one marketing tool. Video, of course, isn’t the only avenue Sons of Essex has used to spread the word. In addition to video and a hefty dose of organic word-of-mouth marketing, the brand is gung-ho about social media, which Levine says is "part of our everyday life." Sons of Essex also maintains a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
"I believe that it's important to organically have a well rounded and multi-pronged marketing plan," Levine says. That includes real-life events, like the Hester Street Fair booth, T-shirts and branded skateboards, in addition to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube videos.
6. Skip the hard sell. "I am no expert on social media or viral videos, but content is king," Levine says. "Treat your videos less like commercials and more like an informative story."
It's a tenet of social media marketing: Don't be overly promotional. Social media is a great way to interact with customers and stay top of mind so that when a customer arrives at a point where he's ready to purchase, he goes with you instead of a competitor. Don't beat people over the head with sales-y messaging.
Situated in the Lower East Side, Sons of Essex opts to explore the neighborhood’s rich history. The walls are decorated with photos of old LES residents from the nearby Tenement Museum, and the cuisine represents a melting pot of cultures.
While the videos feature mouth-watering dishes and cocktails, they don't have the cheesy vibe of chain restaurant commercial, where a special limited-time offer is explained and the price flashes in huge font. Like Levine says, these YouTube videos are not commercials. Use the platform to show off your business and its offerings, not to aggressively push sales. The same approach applies to other social media platforms, too—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are a way for a business to show its human side, not desire for revenue. Be human and customers will come naturally.
Photo credit: Sons of Essex, New York.