Cafe Society

Big Papa's BBQ bumps business using social media

Barbecue is a Southern and warm-weather food. So how is Big Papa's BBQ seeing an increase in sales in the middle of a Colorado winter? In much the same way other businesses are driving revenue, it's utilizing social media.

In mid-November, Big Papa's set out to see if it could increase business through these social-media tools. So far, the effort's paying off.

"We're seeing an increase in sales," says co-owner Bill Cossoff. "It's enough that we're noticing it. As a campaign, I'm definitely in favor of it."

Co-owner Frank Alfonso, aka Big Papa, estimates that he and Cossoff have seen about a 7 percent increase in sales over last year, despite closing one of their Littleton locations in early January. The remaining outposts, at 6265 East Evans Avenue and 5151 South Federal Boulevard, are doing well.

"In a soft economy, we're pleased with that," Alfonso says of the sales increase. "We're seeing people come in and talk about something we've done on Facebook, or they bring in coupons from our website or mention offers we did through tweets, so we're seeing traffic being driven through the door."

Big Papa's was aided by Xylem, a local social-media expert, in putting together a four-part campaign. Entrepreneur Magazine is also chronicling the campaign's progress; editor-in-chief Amy Cosper initially proposed the idea of using a local business as a social-media case study.

After that, Alfonso hit the streets with his smoker for pop-ups, tweeting his location and posting it on Facebook, then offering free barbecue to anyone who showed up. Big Papa's also offered samples to people who went to one of the restaurants and announced they were there for the "Baby Back Throwdown," a campaign it promoted on Twitter (@BigPapa'sBarBQ) and Facebook. And the first forty people who signed up for Big Papa's e-mail list were treated to a barbecue-and-New Belgium beer dinner.

The final part of this initial campaign is a private dinner and Q&A session with Alfonso that someone will win by posting a photo on Big Papa's Facebook page that shows the contestant's love for the restaurant. Whoever gets the most "likes" wins the dinner.

Cossoff says that Facebook "likes" have tripled since the project started, and the Twitter account now has 300 followers. Xylem did most of the social legwork for the first thirty days; Alfonso and Cossoff took over around Christmas. "I think we were a little mechanical at first, until we started doing it more," admits Cossoff. "Once we started having fun with it, we realized it's just another way to communicate."

Xylem set Big Papa's up on Hootsuite, a social media management site, and gave the partners pointers on how to sound more personable. But the biggest step for Alfonso was making it part of his routine. "Once you make it a habit in your day, you don't get away from it," he says. "You carve out an hour of your day for it. It's not rocket science; it's going online and talking to people. You can make the user feel like he's talking to a robot, and you want to get away from that."

While some might view Twitter and Facebook as a very impersonal way to communicate, Alfonso doesn't see it that way. "There are several people who come in and I recognize their name and recognize their handle on Twitter and remember a conversation I had with them," he says. "It personalizes the conversation. I might have been talking to them for two months, and I finally put a face to a name or handle."

Cossoff says the one-year anniversary party for the Federal location was the restaurant's busiest day ever -- and it was fueled by social media.

"It seems to have awoken the other barbecue people, which is good, because a rising tide raises all ships," says Cossoff. "We want people in Colorado to be more involved in the barbecue scene."

And get those people involved more regularly. "In the store, we've always tried to interact with customers," says Cossoff. "It's one thing to talk to customers in the store, but this way we continue the dialogue once they leave and maybe give them reasons to come back that they wouldn't have without Facebook or Twitter."

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