Paula found clue #28 at the old Twin Tee Pee's site - and Brian Canlis is happy!

Obviously, every restaurant can’t be Canlis, the grand old lady of Seattle fine dining. While your restaurant might not boast a wonderful, award-winning 60-year history, you can learn some solid best practices from their current talk-of-the-town “hidden menu” contest and apply them in an appropriate way to your social media efforts. Here are 10 lessons I think all restaurants can learn about how to run a knockout contest using social media:

  1. People want to feel special Exclusivity is sexy; Canlis is brilliantly using social media exclusively to distribute the clues each day, meaning you are an “insider” if you are following them on Twitter or Facebook. There’s no other way to get the info!  Insider info/access makes your fans feel special and value the prize even more.  How can you make people feel like “insiders” while trying to win your game or contest?
  2. People love to play games We’re all children at heart and we’ll do crazy things to win games, even chasing all over the city looking for a rolled up piece of paper from 1950! Think about how you can position your contest in a game/competitive format, and watch as even more people will participate.Your prize doesn’t have to be as expensive or cherished as the Canlis dinner offer, but what will compel people to participate in your game, hopefully in a fun way?
  3. People love attention Communicating with your fans on social media on a regular basis (i.e. every single day for months, like the Canlis brothers are doing!) builds rapport and goodwill. This frequent communication and contact leads to loyalty and relationships, and you may even get to know them by name.  And isn’t that the “Cheers” model – “sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”.
  4. People want to feel smart Canlis contestants must use their knowledge of Seattle history (or their ability to learn it quickly) to win this daily clue contest. If you can include some knowledge or info about your company as a requirement to win your game, that’s a double win!  Ala Mode Pies did this beautifully on Twitter last summer, running a week-long promotion that required people to visit their website daily to discover answers or details about the company to win free pie. What info can you impart about your restaurant during your contest, to increase your visibility and accomplish your goals?[blackbirdpie url=”!/bcanlis/status/5772246115164160″]
  5. People like unique prizes/experiences Canlis is offering something quite valuable (dinner at 1950s menu prices) that has never been offered before. Rather than just giving another standard issue gift card, or a 2-for-1 offer, they made the stakes high enough to create a frenzy around winning.  And the method is a treasure hunt – you have to leave your computer to win!  If you offer a one-time prize – say, to your 1000th follower – as soon as the prize is won, everyone stops playing and your momentum may be lost.  The beauty of the Canlis contest is that they’re doing it over a two-month span, allowing LOTS of winners and keeping the game alive. What unique prize can you offer that will be worth playing for and give extended/ongoing value to your restaurant?
  6. People need people Most of us long to be part of the” bigger picture” and be a good member of our community. Canlis is helping building pride in our city and expanding knowledge about the place we call home – people are even studying state history and predicting locations where the menus might be hidden!  Also, by conducting the game on social media, people are making new friends and communicating with other fans they didn’t previously know but now have found something in common with. How can you help your fans connect with a larger group outside themselves and enrich their lives?[blackbirdpie url=”!/paulaj1967/status/8330938828201984″]
  7. People have different learning styles Canlis has done a great job of mixing up the types of clues they give – word play, puzzles, facts, dates, pictures, etc. This helps ensure everyone has a chance to win, because what might be an obvious clue to you, is a stupefying mystery to me! The constant changeup gives hope that “some day” there will be a clue I can figure out! Mix up your method and try a variety of styles, tones or tactics during your promotion, so everyone feels they have a chance to win?
  8. Brian and Mark Canlis (in hats) at Nordstrom with the two winners on Black Friday

    People want access to you, Believe it or not, people want to know there’s “a man behind the curtain!” Brian Canlis (and Mark) frequently respond to fan comments and questions on Twitter/Facebook, and they are extremely accessible.  They are doing all the leg work, posting messages on their social media accounts, personally hiding the menu each day, taking pictures with the winners, etc.  They are very hands-on and their fans LOVE it.  How can you put more of “yourself” and your restaurant into your contest and give people a closer glimpse of who you really are?

  9. People love a good surprise While everyone thought the 50 days of Canlis menu hiding “was” the contest, the brothers threw us a curveball midway through by announcing there would be a much larger Part 2 of the contest.  All 50 winners are invited to play a grand finale game this New Year’s Eve, with a HUGE prize dangling at the end for just one winner. It was a big shock – and pleasant surprise! – and suddenly made finding one of those darn menus an entirely new ballgame!  What bonus or extra can you add to your promotion to reward your fans and extend the life of the game?
  10. People want to be generous The beauty of the bonus in the Canlis contest is that the grand prize winner gets to GIVE AWAY a yearly dinner for two to Canlis FOR LIFE! Yes, people are competing to win something they are going to give away – and that’s just awesome. Canlis is allowing people to experience not only receiving a great gift (the free dinner they win by finding a menu), but more so the higher pleasure of giving that gift to someone else more deserving.  This is going to be tougher to figure out for your restaurant, but what can you do in the spirit of giving to others, beside the original prize of the promotion?

So there you have it, my advice as a social media consultant for restaurants, about how to run a smashing contest like Canlis, with or without the prestige, history or budget they obviously possess.  It can be done, with a little imagination and a generous dash of fun. I’d love to hear other ideas or lessons you’ve learned from Brian and Mark Canlis and their WillyWonka-esque contest…the comments section below is now open!

NOTE: For a comprehensive look at the various blogs, articles, interviews and videos about the Canlis Menu Hunt, please visit my other site here