Since social media debuted, marketers have worked against a constantly shifting landscape to wrangle social data and apply it for maximum impact. What strategies are most important now, and why?

Here are five best-practices, using examples from the NetBase Social Media Best-Practices Guide 2016: Restaurant Brands for context.

1. Increasing brand awareness via social promotions

This tactic might sound obvious, but the most effective approach may not be. The social landscape isn't about brands, so promoting yourself is tricky. Any outreach that doesn't have consumers' desires firmly in mind will fail.

To identify those desires, you must use social listening. Dissecting the data may uncover multiple audience segments, each after something different, that require unique targeted messaging and promotions for each segment.

Brands to watch: Ben & Jerry's saw mentions skyrockets six times the norm, and Krispy Kreme enjoyed major positive buzz during #FreeConeDay and #FreeDonutDay respectively. As long as that's the case, they should continue these special annual promotions and their use of hashtags to stand out on social.

2. Monitoring social reactions in real time

Consumer opinions change rapidly, and a single negative post can start a viral chain reaction and cause damage to your brand's reputation. The only way to stave off such consequences is by keeping on top of social reactions in real time.

But real-time monitoring also lets you know when you're on the right track with a campaign. When you are, engage followers by thanking them for sharing their thoughts. And if your campaign isn't hitting its mark you can shift gears before all is lost.

Brand to watch: In the two weeks surrounding McDonald's all-day breakfast launch, the company saw a 23% boost in Net Sentiment (brand love). Seeing this nearly two-thirds increase in real time affirmed consumers really loved the change.

3. Identifying influencers to amplify messaging

The best voices for reaching consumers are other consumers. Millennials, in particular, distrust traditional advertising, and instead seek the advice of friends, family, and social consumers when weighing purchases.

Brands need to be active participants in identifying and keeping influencers on board. Get to know those talking positively about your brand, and connect based on their interests and passions to show you're human and not just using them.

Brand to watch: Wingstop has harnessed the power of influencers to the tune of 2 billion earned impressions. It's not just because its wings are good. It's also because some pretty big names sing (or rap) their praises.

4. Stopping emerging issues before they snowball

It's not enough to simply know about negative social posts... You need the people in place to manage them when the warning bell sounds. Real-time monitoring and social customer service are crucial. Moreover, you also should have on-call legal and PR personnel to advise the right move when your brand is at the top of a slippery slope.

If the issue snowballs, your brand may not recover. You need social software that alerts you to potential threats to your brand's reputation as they happen.

Brand to watch: Drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers found out too late about a video making the social rounds. It showed an employee wiping a burger bun on a dirty floor and then serving it to a customer. By the time the company scrambled to respond, the damage was done. During the worst two days of the crisis, Net Sentiment fell substantially.

5. Spotting and acting on trends before competitors

Broadening your social listening to include competitors and their audiences is a huge advantage over your competition. By branching out beyond mentions of your brand, you gain insights into what consumers want and need—and the opportunity to provide it for them.

When competitors fall short, be the hero. Or use social to gather intel on upcoming product innovations. And when trends affect your vertical, you can shift as well instead of get edged out.

Brand to watch: Chipotle capitalized on social users' desire for delivery services in the fast casual category. The company partnered with a local delivery company to test response and saw Passion Intensity (intensity of brand love) spike.

* * *

What these best-practices share is a commitment to putting consumers first, staying on top of social conversations as they happen, and looking beyond your brand for data you can use. When you do all that, you keep brand health at an optimum and ensure future success, even when the market shifts.

And those strategies apply whether you're a restaurant brand, retail brand, or any other business with a social presence.

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Five Social Best-Practices and Their Examples From the Food Industry

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image of Paige Leidig

Paige Leidig is CMO of NetBase, a developer of natural language processing technology used to analyze social media and other Web content.

LinkedIn: Paige R. Leidig