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Vox talked to owners of Beet Box and Pizza Tree to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into their carefully planned social posts.

A sonogram with two pizzas collaged onto a womb might not seem like something you would find on a business’ Instagram account, but Pizza Tree’s feed is full of gems. John Gilbreth, owner of Pizza Tree, established the restaurant’s online presence back in 2013. “We did anything to get attention,” Gilbreth says. “We were like a kid jumping up and down at our mom’s side. I was the kid, and the mom was the general public.” Now, Pizza Tree boasts over 6,100 Facebook followers.

As the influence of social media has continued to grow, restaurants owners such as Gilbreth have developed more strategic approaches to posting. Instagram has become a hub where young customers can learn about specials and discover new dishes. Pizza Tree’s Instagram profile is an extension of the eatery’s quirky style, and it has an audience of nearly 4,800 followers.

Dedication to social media marketing is crucial in Columbia, where an established online presence sets a restaurant apart from its competition. Pizza Tree followers are so loyal that the account regularly receives direct messages and comments that range from mild excitement to “I would die for you Pizza Tree,” as dryly commented by follower Kaitlyn Weir in January.

Ben Hamrah, co-owner of Beet Box, says the trend in which restaurants curate a strong online relationship with customers started when restaurants in bigger cities began using social media to establish distinguished brand experiences. A similar approach worked well for Beet Box and gained the restaurant nearly 2,000 Instagram followers. “What we’re trying to do is to be very active so that all of our customers and our clients can see what we’re doing on a daily basis,” he says.

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Hamrah and co-owner Amanda Elliott started posting about the Middle Eastern pop-up when it was still a side project to Peachtree Catering in 2018.

Beet Box’s brick-and-mortar storefront opened just three months ago, and social media is instrumental in marketing the restaurant to locals. “It would be totally mundane if we had a sterile, straightforward social media approach, but the fact that we can say whatever we want is more reflective of our personality,” Elliott says.

For a typical Beet Box post, Elliott arranges a beautifully plated meal and takes a photo. The aesthetic of Beet Box’s posts matches the experience customers can expect in the restaurant: plenty of natural light, pops of color and music, as is featured in video posts. Costs stay low for Beet Box because Instagram is free, and the owners take photos on their iPhones. The “Eat It” sign, which glows neon pink and hangs inside the restaurant, frequently appears in posts.

Both Beet Box and Pizza Tree effectively translate their playful ambiances into their social media personalities. Pizza Tree tends to use psychedelic colors in its posts.

The two restaurants differ, however, in how much involvement employees have in the posting process. Hamrah and Elliott post everything themselves, while Gilbreth hires an outside marketing firm. This gives him more time to manage the pizza business in other capacities. To create authentic posts, the marketers spent hours interviewing Pizza Tree employees and gathering information from inside the restaurant.

College students flood the social media presences of Pizza Tree and Beet Box. Going forward, Gilbreth’s main goal is to constantly engage the new student population that arrives on MU’s campus each year. Neither Pizza Tree nor Beet Box owners anticipate social media going away any time soon. Hamrah says, “If you can create this really intimate relationship with your customer, I think that’s the next step in where food service is going.”

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