As a social media marketer focused on the restaurant industry, I loved the new movie “Chef” for a number of reasons.

Like most of the audience, I left the theater drooling thanks to the amazing food prep and photography, teasing us with their tantalizing treats. I also loved the “phoenix rising from the ashes” aspect of Chef Carl Casper’s road trip renaissance. And the heart Chef showed by following his creative passions instead of giving in to the pressure to produce food he does not love was inspiring.

But what I loved most was the clear message of how integral social media is to those working in the restaurant and food truck industry. There were textbook examples of how to positively capitalize on the powers of social media – and several horror stories of social media use gone bad.  However, the end result was almost a love story to the power of social media and its ability to help chefs, restaurateurs and food truck owners accomplish their dreams.

Here are my 9 great social media lessons served up in Chef:

  1. Yes, people ARE talking about you! Whether you are aware of it or not, people are talking about you on social media! After a poor review, Chef’s crew alludes to all the comments about him on Twitter, which totally baffles him. “People are talking about me?” Once he enlists his son to get signed up on twitter and he actually takes in all the comments and feedback, he is stunned. It was a wise decision for Chef to sign up and get in the game, because waiting to participate in social media until there’s a problem is an accident waiting to happen.
  2. Your audience can grow very quickly. Once Chef signs up for Twitter, he instantly gains hundreds of followers, which quickly turns into thousands, especially as his situation deteriorates. Jumping in during a crisis is obviously not the ideal way to grow your audience. But the point remains that social media is a great platform to increase your visibility and communicate with people. Followers want to hear your perspective and be a part of your world, so being communicative and engaging with your fans via social media can be very beneficial to your business.
  3. You can draw the crowd to you. Twitter is a fantastic way to spread the word about what you are doing and get immediate results (butts in seats) for new projects and menus. With the intention to redeem himself , Chef tweeted that he had a special menu he was preparing that night, throwing down the gauntlet for a return visit from the restaurant critic. The restaurant was immediately booked solid for the evening, and ironically, the restaurant owner thought it was for the food. The owner refused to acknowledge that guests had made reservations to come try Chef’s new menu, thanks to his earlier tweet. Putting out your information via social media to attract new guests as well as inform your loyal patrons is not only smart, but profitable.
  4. Social media can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use it. Obviously you wouldn’t enter a restaurant kitchen, pick up a chef’s knife, and try to prepare a meal – unless you didn’t value your fingers! You need to be trained to use the tools of the trade, and social media is no different. Once Chef was on Twitter, he got a little cocky and tried to send a private (nasty) message to the restaurant critic. However, since he didn’t know the difference between a public reply and a private message, he ended up posting a public message that  all could to see, further escalating his bad situation.  Which leads to the next lesson…
  5. Messages on social media go viral VERY quickly. Bad news and controversy spreads like wildfire on social media, especially on Twitter. Just as the poor review of Chef’s food was earlier retweeted on a very wide scale, the spread of his antagonistic reply was 10 times worse. What was already a bad situation for Chef became monumental because he did not understand the nature of viral messages. You need to take care with what you say on social media and be very cognizant of the public face you are presenting.
  6. You can build relationships with the media via social media. Chef chose to do this in a very antagonistic way, due to his lack of understanding of how social media relationships work. Twitter can be an excellent way to build rapport with media and other influencers in a positive way, over time, with respect and generosity. These relationships should be built from a place of mutual interest, without expectation of positive reviews, free food or other perks. People do business with people, and social media is an excellent way to build relationships organically.
  7. If you tweet it, they will come! For a food truck, having customers find you is the holy grail. Since you change locations frequently – often due to circumstances out of your control – you need to keep your followers updated so they can find you and buy from you! At one point late in the move, Chef shows amazement at the crowds that are lined up to meet him in a new city, until his son informs him that he simply tweeted out their location and invited them to come check it out.  Chef had earned quite a following of fans eager to try his food on the road trip, and social media gave him the access to reach them immediately.
  8. Authentically own your social media accounts. Speaking of Chef’s son, he was invaluable in broadening the visibility of his dad’s business, the food truck. He not only knew how to use social media tools effectively to attract attention, but he was able to authentically represent the business. He was actually on the truck, posting pictures of behind-the-scenes action and delicious food, and he gave the truck a fun voice that drew people in.  His son was invested in the success of the business, and people respond to that. This is not to say you should use PR firms or freelance workers to represent you on social media, but there’s a huge advantage to handling your accounts internally and authentically.
  9. Two identities are better than one. One of the things I admired most about how the son helped his dad’s social media activities was that he expanded their presence beyond using just one account (the Chef’s) to create an account for the truck (El Jefe). This not only gave them double exposure, allowing the two accounts to play off each other, but it maintained a separate identity for Chef. It’s important because a chef rarely stays at one restaurant their entire career, so establishing a separate social media identity allows them to maintain the relationships they build with followers – long after they’ve moved on to their next place or project.

Those are my 10 great social media lessons served up by the movie “Chef” – I’d love to hear what you’d add to the list!