Before social media became mainstream, the first thing diners did when their food arrived at a restaurant was dig in. Today, many patrons wait until they’ve captured the perfect food picture to add to their social media feeds.
Social media is ubiquitous, having transformed nearly every aspect of our lives including the physical world around us. From restaurants to pop-up experiences—many developers, brands and organizations are taking notice and reimagining space through the lens of Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter—creating environments that encourage and allow consumers to snap, post, and share their perspectives on any given event or experience.
Any successful brand or place must create an emotional connection with its consumer.
Thus, a brand’s design and aesthetic are crucial for attracting consumers who are embracing the digital photo-sharing phenomenon.
Streetsense, a CBRE partner, helps brands create spaces that will entice consumers to post and share their content online. “Ultimately, consumers value and reward brands that give them opportunities to build, augment and enrich their own personal brands on social media and photo-sharing apps,” says Chris Delucchi, managing principal of brand engagement at Streetsense.
“Any successful brand or place must create an emotional connection with its consumer—and we do that by marrying the online experience with the physical experience, which in turn drives a brand’s business goals of awareness, interest, consideration, visitation and evangelism. In the broader sense, a consumer showcasing their experience on social media is a testament to the strength of that built environment. We must always consider the end-user experience first, and the social media reach will follow.”
A Feast for the Eyes
When Kellogg’s opened its cereal bar in Manhattan in 2016, designing a space that fosters social media usage and engages consumers was a priority.
“We wanted people to walk in and immediately feel a sense of home—a place where they could chill, hang out with friends, nourish themselves and be creative,” says Sandra Di Capua, partner at Kellogg’s NYC. “So much of the Kellogg’s aesthetic is wildly photogenic, from the cereals themselves to our 30-plus DIY toppings. We’re living in the heyday of food photography, and few things are as photogenic as a beautifully composed bowl of cereal and milk.”
To curate that quintessential breakfast staple and other foods, props and lighting play a major role.
“Nearly every area within our cereal café has something that makes it visually appealing and that makes people want to capture their time in our space,” says Di Capua. “We’ve stocked the shelves with all kinds of different napkins, surfaces, placemats, spoons, vintage Kellogg’s merchandise and toys, all there to be mixed and matched to reflect the guest’s personal point of view. We’ve also lit that nook with professional photo lighting, so a basic phone camera can snap a picture that looks professional.”
The right amount of light is vital to curate and secure the perfect shot that will rake in the “likes” and “thumbs up” across social media platforms. “Lighting is everything,” says Jeremy Jacobowitz, New York-based food blogger of the Brunch Boys, which boasts more than 400,000 followers on a popular photo-sharing app.
Not only can a cool space make patrons whip out their smartphone cameras, but it can also enhance the overall dining experience.
“A unique design concept can sway a patron’s perception of her meal,” says Alexa Mehraban, food blogger behind Eating NYC.
Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington, D.C. does a great job at creating shareable photo moments both in the built environment and with its baked goods. From its ombré chevron floor to its delicate light fixtures, the setting makes the perfect backdrop for an easy photo-sharing shot.
A unique design concept can sway a patron’s perception of her meal.
Plus, an attuned, smart design can lead to increased patronage and revenue. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve posted something and a reader has immediately gone to the restaurant the same or following day—the power of imagery with food is unquestionable,” says Brooke Eliason. “I believe that restaurants that have embraced the relevance of social media and provide content to their readers on a regular basis will not only bring in customers, but have the opportunity to foster community by reposting great photos and interacting with comments online.”
Sean Tao, chief executive officer at Chomp Eatery & Juice Station in Los Angeles, knows firsthand that a photogenic bite can boost the bottom line. The bistro’s popular Unicorn Melt, or Rainbow Grilled Cheese, has sparked traffic on social media, and in turn, to the store.
“We have seen an increase in sales and traffic, as well as generating likes and adds on photo-sharing apps,” says Tao. “The demographic of our customers not only include locals, but those that have traveled to Los Angeles and make us a stop on their food itinerary. We have had customers come as far as Hong Kong and Europe to try our product! The stretch of influence is unbelievable, but something we are happy to be part of.”
Picture-perfect pop-up experiences
While food is cool to photograph, it’s not the only thing social media savvy people are snapping. For many millennials, it’s all about experiences. Essentially, this group is hungry for experiences where their online and offline worlds can converge in interactive environments—and brands and marketers are listening.
With pop-up experiences like Refinery29’s 29 Rooms, a multi-sensory funhouse of style, culture, and technology, brought to life by a group of global artists and visionaries across mediums, consumers are able to blend the two seamlessly. These temporary experiences typically boast eye-catching décor and whimsical activations—making the space a can’t-miss photo opportunity.
“There are a handful of built environment engagement mainstays: Neon signs with spunky, motivational quotes, entire walls covered in hanging plants (“living walls”), succulent-adorned table-tops—most consumers are quite used to seeing these tokens of ‘hipness’ appear on their feeds,” says Delucchi. “Built environments allow people to capture their own creative take on the space, helping preserve a memory, share inspiration with followers, and demonstrate to their following that they’re checking out the must-see spots in a city.”
Future of social media and the built environment
Strategically curated experiences will influence our future ability to drive social interaction, demand and customer loyalty in the built environment.
Technology is moving at a rapid speed and the evolution of social media and its platforms are sure to morph into something even more immersive—therefore, brands, marketers and developers must be nimble to accommodate those innovations.
“Strategically curated experiences will influence our future ability to drive social interaction, demand and customer loyalty in the built environment,” says Delucchi. “Consumers are looking to connect with brands and places on a human and authentic level so building communities, connecting with neighbors, soliciting feedback and creating unique experiences will be key as people trust their peers and original content more than news or marketing today.”
Whether it’s an eye-catching menu item or lively design—in this digital age—restaurants, brands and developers must make sure all nooks and crannies of their establishments are ready for their close-ups.