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Ottawa restaurant serves PR using Facebook and Twitter

A colleague of mine who raves about Ottawa's Play Food and Wine recently tweeted to her followers that she was looking forward to her Friday night dinner reservation. Much to her surprise, just minutes after settling in, a restaurant manager she had never met came to the table to thank her for always tweeting such kind words about the popular spot.

She was delighted.

Over the past year the marketing world has seen some incredible PR campaigns strategically harness the power of social media – it is an important tool that can be used by businesses big and small.

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Well-known Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta opened Play in January, 2009. Grayson McDiarmid, Play's wine director and service manager, decided it would be fun to sign-up for Facebook and Twitter about 10 months ago. At the time of this column, Play had almost 500 Twitter followers and about 665 Facebook fans.

Facebook, Twitter, and the restaurant's e-mail subscription list make up a good portion of Play's marketing activities.

"We don't spend any money on advertising," Mr. McDiarmid says. "Money that would usually be devoted to marketing has been put into staffing so that word-of-mouth can be our biggest marketing tool."

The restaurant's investment in social media is paying off – Mr. McDiarmid has found a way to leverage social networking to enable more personal communication with customers, enhance Play's overall level of service, and continue to bring in large volumes of people.

"We have sold out every event we've had since we opened by using only Facebook, Twitter and our mailing list – so it's hard to deny their effectiveness," Mr. McDiarmid says.

"I have a lot of fun using social networking. I can tweet funny pictures, new wines, and local products that become available. It really creates a special connection between us and our fans."

By regularly communicating with the restaurant's networks, Mr. McDiarmid says he is able to reach out to loyal customers, food bloggers and the rest of the community, to make them feel like insiders who are part of the restaurant's day-to-day operations.

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But like everyone embarking on a social networking strategy, Mr. McDiarmid has learned a few lessons along the way. "I once tweeted a certain crème brûlée that our chef de cuisine was playing with, and we had multiple people show up over the next couple of days looking for it," he says. "The problem was, it wasn't quite perfected and ready. Needless to say, I am no longer allowed to tweet things until they are ready to go."

Perhaps it felt like a tiny mistake at the time, but this slip-up is actually a sign that Play has found a fun and easy way to engage its customers - literally bringing them to the door of the restaurant with a message of just 140 characters.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Wedgbury is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.

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