Austin Small Businesses Keep It Social (Live from #SXSW)

SXSW is the ultimate social media nerd camp.

Smart phones are the rule. If you don’t tweet, you may as well not exist. And finding outlets to power up your multiple devices is like a competitive sport.

There’s so much social savvy in such a concentrated area that you can almost see the smug coming off the huge crowds like exhaust fumes.

But I was wondering if Austin’s local businesses were gleaning any tips from the massive concentration of expertise that invades their restaurants, shops, and bars every March. And I mean in ways that add up to more than just an increase in foot traffic and direct sales. 

Good news!

Turns out that Austin’s small business community rocks — and I’m not just talking about their famous music scene.

Austin has the greatest concentration of small business social media rock stars that I’ve ever encountered. Check out this Foursquare list of nearby restaurants:

What do you notice? They all have a check-in special. That means each of these restaurants are actively managing their Foursquare location and rewarding patrons for helping their businesses become more socially visible.

Almost every shop, restaurant, cafe, pedicab, and food truck in Austin has an active social presence — Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza is as likely to have an active Facebook Page as is Book People, a local favorite for author events and, yes, books.

A Berry good discovery on Foursquare

Foursquare is how I found Berry Austin — a frozen yogurt shop on Congress Ave.

I was at the Austin Convention Center and I got a hankering for something cold and sweet. I searched for “ice cream” on my Foursquare app, and a number of options came up.

Berry Austin had a check-in special that rewarded you with a discount on your first check-in (and thanked you for stopping in, by the way). So a colleague and I decided to check it out.

We found the location easily, thanks to the colorful sign on the sidewalk enticing us to come in. (Great lesson there: Don’t forget about tried and true marketing tactics.)

Right next to the door, Berry Austin encouraged their patrons to connect with them on specific social networks. Again, I was impressed with how an Austin small business was making all the right social media moves.

They were even trying out a new loyalty card platform — BellyCard — that had just made its way to Austin.

Social media is the cherry on a smart communications strategy

I started chatting with owner Kathy Steele about her social media strategy.

What’s most important to her is making sure her brand has a unique and authentic voice, and making sure her customers have a great experience. She starts with that ethos and uses social to help her get there.

Turns out Kathy is also a Constant Contact customer who sends a monthly newsletter to her contact list (I swear, I had no idea when I walked in). Berry Austin’s website even has a mobile version to faciliate on-the-go browsing — the cherry on their SoLoMo (ahem, that’s social-local-mobile) sundae.

Old style bar, new style marketing

Another business with an impressive social presence is Péché Austin — a gorgeous restaurant and bar on Fourth Street.

I had started following Péché on Twitter (@Peche_Austin) at last year’s SXSW when I enjoyed a very well crafted cocktail at their bar.

So when they tweeted Monday’s dinner menu that afternoon, I happened to see it and remembered how much I loved the drink I had the year before. I wanted to go back and try them for dinner.

The atmosphere at Péché is understated elegance with a Prohibition-era caché. So when my colleague made a spot-on comment about the vibe, I knew I had to tweet it:

Minutes later @Peche_Austin retweeted my comment to their followers. And then a little bit later, a local Austinian favorited that tweet — he doesn’t follow me, but he follows Péché, and saw that retweet in his Twitter stream.

So not only did Péché make it easy for me to find them again by being active on Twitter, they helped spread positive word of mouth by amplifying my comments.

Keeping Austin Social

Austin’s small business owners don’t have any extra time or resources than any other small business do. But what they have is know-how, and they aren’t shy about using it.

These Austin businesses aren’t doing anything super complicated or overly fancy — they’re doing the basics well and using the platforms that allow them the most visibility and give them the biggest bang for their time investment.

Austin’s motto may be “keep it weird,” but when it comes to social media, Austin’s small business community keeps it both simple AND smart.

Have you seen any smart social strategies lately, in Austin or elsewhere? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

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