By Kirsten Kyne and Scott W. Harrison

Lexington might seem secluded, but its businesses are finding new ways to reach their customers through social media.

In June 2012, the CNBC All-America Economic Survey estimated that nearly half of all Americans had a Facebook account. For those between 18 and 34 years of age, the number was even higher: 80 percent.

With the expansion of social media sites like Facebook, several Lexington businesses have tapped into these new outlets to list their dinner specials, advertise promotional offers and spotlight special events.

Amanda Miller, marketing coordinator for The Southern Inn Restaurant on Main Street, said running a Facebook site has become an important way for restaurants to connect with customers.

“It just became as essential as having a website,” Miller said. “It’s the new way to stay current.”

Sweet Frog, a Richmond-based company with more than 100 locations, came to Lexington in January. It specializes in self-serve frozen yogurt.

Jason Harris, the owner and manager of the Lexington Sweet Frog on North Lee Highway, said his franchise has been relying on Facebook since the store opened.

“It’s a different concept,” Harris said. “This is a totally off the wall experience for a lot of folks.”

The Lexington location has more than 600 “likes” on its Facebook page. Harris uses the page to promote specials, offer coupons and announce new flavors. He also uses “text blasts” to reach customers on their mobile devices.

Customers can sign up for these text blasts by sending a message to Lexington Sweet Frog’s designated text number. The company then saves these numbers to send out specials and announcements.

So far, Harris said, these strategies have brought the store immediate success.

In September, Sweet Frog promoted its first “No Weigh” Wednesday special through Facebook and its text blasts. All 12-ounce cups of frozen yogurt were $4 during the day.
Harris said the store’s daily sales doubled during this promotion.

For a business like Sweet Frog, he added, the use of social media has been crucial to bringing in new customers.

“It reaches out to folks that we may never reach.”

Harris hopes to expand Sweet Frog’s online presence to Twitter and to refine the store’s use of text blasts.

Likewise, Miller said that Southern Inn’s followers on Facebook and Twitter have grown significantly over the last year. The restaurant has over 1,600 followers on Facebook and over 300 followers on Twitter.

The restaurant uses these two sites to post their daily specials, new food items, seasonal dishes and special wine and beer tastings.

It’s also a new and useful way to get feedback from customers, Miller said.

“People will ‘like’ daily specials and talk about their experience at the restaurant,” she said.  “It’s important to know what the customers want to see more of.”

Miller said The Southern Inn hopes to expand its social media presence to Pinterest and Instagram to appeal to new customers with pictures of the restaurant, its entrees and other dishes.

Pure Eats, a restaurant on North Main Street, also has an active Facebook presence. With more than 800 followers on Facebook, Pure Eats posts daily doughnut flavors, weekly burger specials and live music performances.

Washington Street Purveyors uses Facebook to update customers on new product arrivals, Friday wine tastings and other events.
Although the store  also uses emails to inform subscribers of news, owner Chuck Smith said he prefers using Facebook. It’s simply an easier way to communicate with customers, he said.

“It’s been effective on a very basic level,” Smith said. “The main thing is to keep the business on people’s minds.”

For these businesses, the move into the digital world has already generated returns by reaching and informing a broader clientele. It’s also a way for them to stay ahead of the curve.

“It’s something all restaurants should use,” Miller said. “There’s no cost, only benefits.”

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