Social media has become a blessing and a curse for the restaurant industry. The same immediacy that makes it ideal for connecting with customers is exactly what can damage a brand when used against it, according to a new eMarketer report, “Social Media Damage Control: Learning from the Restaurant Industry.”

Social media is used to connect, correct and keep tabs on problems as they arise. It is also prominent for advertising and promotions. In fact, it is the most-used marketing tactic employed by restaurants by far, according to a study conducted by Ipsos MediaCT on behalf of Groupon and the National Restaurant Association. Among US restaurants in March 2013, 80% used social media—17 percentage points higher than email, which was the next most popular choice. Social’s ubiquity is likely because it’s viewed as less expensive than traditional forms of marketing. Furthermore, 68% of restaurants said they monitored restaurant review sites, showing that keeping on top of customer feedback is considered to be part of marketing for many in the industry.

“Most people have thought of social media as a tool for the marketing professional to advertise and create more demand for their brand or their product,” said Susan Ganeshan, CMO at newBrandAnalytics, a social customer intelligence platform. But the ability to interact directly with customers is also a strength. When clients increase direct engagement with online reviewers by as little as 1%, that positive online sentiment could increase as much as 25%, she explained.

In addition to marketing and engagement, increasingly, social media is being used as a tool to listen to customers, monitor sentiment and create favorable brand impressions. Reputation was of utmost importance in several surveys—in one, seeing a 36% increase as a social business tactic between 2011 and 2012, according to execs surveyed by MIT Sloan School of Management and Deloitte University Press, and nearly tying with building brand affinity in importance.

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