Earshot: New App Lures Hungry Diners Right Off the Streets

By on Thursday, October 17th, 2013

First there was Twitter. Then there was Yelp, and Foursquare. Then came Foodspotting. And Instagram. Social and check-in apps gave us entertainment, and power. We looked for interesting restaurants, showed off the awesome dish we just ate and left a scathing review when our service took too long.

Bub City uses Earshot to listen–not only to who is talking about them but who is nearby and ready for a beer and BBQ. (Photo courtesy Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises)

For many years, the dance of engagement has been skewed towards consumers rather than the dining establishments. Now with Earshot, the intersection between consumers, food and direct marketing just got more interesting. Or at least, more targeted. Customers “within earshot” of a restaurant are identified through any number of social media and geo-tagging channels in real time–the digital equivalent of (or perhaps superior to) outdoor “hosts” urging tourists to come in and order the special.

Earshot, in a nutshell, is a filtering technology that lets restaurants not only see exactly which people are “talking” about them or seeking food that tastes like theirs; it also lets restaurants send greetings and invitations to those people, through the social media channel they use most.

Rattling the Geo-Fence

The task of wading through volumes of social media conversation to find people actually ready to come in and try a restaurant within their immediate geographic location was onerous. Almost not worth the effort.

“Social media teams are inundated with the overwhelming amount of social media that comes in via mentions, hashtags and keyword searches,” says CEO and co-founder David Rush. “With Earshot, social media managers are able to quickly identify social signals that are generated within their designated geo-fence.”

The technology evolved from Rush’s last product Evzdrop, but with a key difference. Evzdrop allows users to share opinions about a place in real time, while they are at that location. Earshot takes it further, utilizing available technologies to validate location. This includes geo-tagged content from Instagram, geo-tweets, and other data points that can validate location even when these social media signals are not actively geo-tagged by the user. “The ‘aha’ moment came when we realized that we could accomplish this goal more easily by accessing other social networks like Twitter and Instagram as the catalyst for this real time engagement,” Rush explains.

According to multiple research outlets including Acuity Group, about 70% of tweets directed to brands go unanswered, even by large companies and chains.

That’s why Earshot caught the attention of Lettuce Entertain You, one of the country’s largest restaurant groups with more than 90 locations and varying themes. (If you’ve been out to eat in the last six months it’s very likely you were in one of them.) Like many other high-volume restaurants they were having trouble creating priorities on who to connect with, and what to say.

“I’m able to respond more effectively to a tweet … it’s a guest that is here in real time and therefore I have more ability to improve his or her experience,” says Justin Saper, Lettuce Entertain You’s social media director.

Rush also sees a powerful role for restaurant management at the local level to influence customer service in unprecedented ways. “We believe we can help mobilize a new customer service team that already exists but is being under-utilized,” he says. “This includes the GM’s, Store Managers, and local teams that can instantly trouble shoot and respond to sentiment in real time.”

Written by Erika Kotite

Erika Kotite is an editor, writer and owner of Toque.

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