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As competition in the restaurant industry heats up, it’s crucial for restaurants to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to emerging trends in social media. With the new year right around the corner (yes, seriously), marketers are already looking ahead to the social media trends of 2016. Here are a few to keep in mind when planning your marketing strategy for next year.

Emojis

Words are so 2015.

Recently, brands have begun to tap into the power of emojis, the lexicon of choice for young consumers. There are a few trends driving the push by brands into marketing with emojis. With close to 2 billion smartphone users worldwide, we are consuming more information than ever before. This abundance of stimuli is making the battle for customer attention even greater. Brands are forced to relate to their audiences in short and attention-grabbing ways.

Budweiser was on of the first brands to use the popular digital icons in their marketing with this clever tweet celebrating the 4th of July:

https://twitter.com/budlight/status/485050295517335552?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

But it’s not enough to just slap a 💃 at the end of a tweet anymore. Smart brands are using them to create innovative campaigns. Take Domino’s, for example. The pizza giant generated tons of buzz when it launched its “AnyWare” promotion, which allows customers to order their favorite pie by texting or tweeting a 🍕 to the brand. Nation’s Restaurant News reported that this simplified ordering system drove up same-store sales for Domino’s by 14.5 percent in the first three months after its introduction.

Even Yelp has jumped on the emoji craze. A feature added in 2014 to the Yelp mobile app allows users to search for local shops, restaurants and bars by using emojis. Users can quickly find burger shops by searching with the burger icon, karaoke lounges with the microphone emoji, billiards bars with the 8-ball icon and much more.

Who needs to type out a search anymore? Just search by emojis on Yelp.

If the popularity of emojis teaches us anything, it’s that consumers are looking for faster and more effective ways to communicate. The brands that win will be the ones that deliver amazingly simple customer experiences.

Weblebrities

It wasn’t that long ago that brands thought posting their TV commercials to YouTube meant they were properly optimizing the platform. But with digital video advertising on the rise and the popularity of social media video stars growing, more brands are teaming up with an array of talent on YouTube and Vine to produce entertaining and engaging content.

YouTube-famous a cappella band Cimorelli helped generate more than a million YouTube views for Subway’s Fritos Chicken Enchilada Melt in just a few days. Panera Bread employed Vine star Kian Lawley and YouTube personality Ricky Dillon to promote the brand’s “Food As It Should Be” campaign.

Wendy’s broke new ground recently by hosting a full day of live-streamed, improvised engagement featuring YouTube stars Rhett & Link. Largely thanks to buzzy new platforms Meerkat and Periscope, live-streaming has become a red-hot tactic for social media marketers. The comedy duo helped the fast food chain promote its summer drinks on a microsite, where Rhett & Link could chat with fans in real time, ideally to spark an entertaining bit of improvisation. The resulting videos were given to chat participants to share on their own social media sites with #sipmeup.

 

Contextualized Content

You know it’s happened to you: you do an online search, check out a couple of webpages, and the next thing you know, ads are popping up for the same and similar products every time you go online. Marketers have access to more data than ever: demographic data, customer-specific historical data, and even customer-specific situational data (such as your location, device and time of day), and thus the world of contextualized content is exploding. But increased options and heightened customer expectations have made delivering relevant digital experiences more important (and challenging) than ever before.

In order to succeed in today’s digital environment, brands must deliver smarter, more customer-centric interactions that feel like they are tailored for each use. How? Through contextualization: tailored and adaptive digital experiences. Brands must be more up-to-the-minute than ever in social media, targeting customers based on location, interests, trending topics and what’s going on in their world at the moment.

Moe’s Southwest Grill saw huge success doing just that. The fast-casual restaurant contextualized its Twitter ads, leveraging TV commercial buys and the television programming schedule. The team reviewed TV ad buys to discover which shows would be airing when the ads ran and then created ads that made sense in context.

Moe’s product names are drawn from TV, movie and other pop culture references, making this campaign a perfect fit, according to FastCasual.com. For example, when “Caddyshack” aired, anyone who tweeted anything about the movie was served up an ad featuring a huge plate of Moe’s “Billy Barou” nachos (named after the putter wielded by Caddyshack character Judge Smails) on a golf green. The tweet references one of the movie’s more quotable lines: “Spaulding, this calls for the ol’ Bill Barou! #caddyshack #welcometomoes.”

Moe's Southwest Grill has gotten a big lift from contextualizing its Twitter ads.

According to FastCasual.com, the brand saw unbelievable engagement from the contextualized tweet. The industry standard for engagement is 1.5 percent, and engagement rates over the course of the campaign averaged near 6.84 percent.

It turns out, customers pay more attention when brands seem to really “get” them and the messaging matches their unique needs, values and lifestyle. In fact, research shows millennials are willing to trade their personal information to get more customized experiences. In turn, these customized experiences breed greater customer engagement in store and online.

Has your brand tested any of these new strategies? Let us know in the comments below!