5 social media lessons found in the movie Chef

I finally watched Chef last night. I don’t know what took me so long, but thanks to Netflix, I finally did it. The movie is great, but the ties to marketing restaurants through a social media strategy are even greater. If you’re an owner/operator and didn’t find any inspiration in that particular element, you’re missing something big.

The brilliance of the movie’s take on social media wasn’t that it was so easy to do that a 12 year old could make it happen. No. It was that what this kid was doing was sharing a story and an authentic life via social channels. That’s what connected with people and started a movement.

However, that movement couldn’t have happened without a following to begin with, and that’s where a lot of restaurateurs and chefs both miss the mark. So, using the movie as a jumping off point, I decided to share three tips for making social media work for your culinary career, restaurant, and your brand.

(Spoiler Alert: I will be discussing some key elements of the plot. If you haven’t watched Chef, then proceed at your own risk.)

Do something crazy. In the movie, the character played by Jon Favreau didn’t even have a twitter account until his poor review went “viral.” His reaction was ill-advised, but it worked to his benefit at first. He responded to the reviewer with a sassy jab, which took the controversy further, but also put him on the Twitter map. So, do something crazy. Everyone is sharing the same stuff (eg. pictures of food, staff, etc.) If you follow suit there is nothing that makes you stand out. Be ballsy, be brave and do something that gets attention in the right way. It doesn’t have to be rude or fueled with a negative attitude like a cliche Kanye interruption.

Find what you love. In the story the chef’s fallout causes him to find something a lot of folks never find: a passion. He rekindles his passion for food and cooking in general. It was about simplifying his life and focusing his passion that pushed him through the rough spot and put him on course for a better, happier future personally and professionally. If you share things socially that are contrived, or devoid of passion, people will see through it quite quickly. Passion is something that’s authentic and can’t be faked, so go find it, go live it, and go share it.

Share your life and story. As a single-unit or small multi-unit operator, or a chef, you have a huge opportunity that larger brands don’t. You can be human. Bigger brands lack the human element that attract people. They constantly try to inject it, but you’re at an advantage in that you can be yourself. In a social world where people are sick of being inundated with brand messaging, this is a huge opportunity. In Chef, the kid shares the journey from Miami back to LA moment by moment. This honesty, transparency and authenticity attracted masses of followers. It was human. It was real. In a digital world, realness is something in short supply.

Go beyond Facebook. In the movie, the two key platforms used were Twitter and Vine. Although many would say Vine has peaked, it’s interesting to see that Facebook wasn’t used at all. Now, this could be because Facebook didn’t pay to play, but the strategy is in line with the truths facing social media. Brands have to pay for Facebook to be effective, and even then, your messages are buried in a feed of other marketing messages. People, especially Millennials, are getting fed up with it and moving to other platforms. They’ve found haven in Instagram, Snapchat and GroupMe.

Converse, don’t yammer. It’s one thing to post and post and post, but that’s only one part of a conversation. The power of social media is found when it’s a two way street. Speak to people. Comment on their posts, share their stuff, and be a friend. Don’t get on a soapbox and constantly yammer on and on. That’s a great way to get ignored. Think about it: How long would you stay at a party if one person never stops talking and constantly tries to sell you things? Be a part of the conversation.

There are tons of other suggestions and strategies out there, but these five tips I find to be of great value for the smaller guys out there. Use these simple guidelines found in Chef, and you’ll be on your way to building something quite great. And go watch Chef, it’s a stellar flick.

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