April 20, 2015

It's time for another Instagram Case Study and I'm excited to be writing this one! The Pier Cafe is a wonderful restaurant in downtown San Diego and as the name implies, it's out on a pier, right off the harbor. It's a beautiful location, they have beautiful photos on Instagram, and the food tastes good too 😉 But, I'm so impressed with how they marketed their restaurant leading up to and during Social Media Marketing World 2015 (#SMMW15).

This was why I really wanted to write about them and share the information with you. But... then I actually met the Instagram account manager for The Pier Cafe at #SMMW15 and I was able to get even more insight into what they did, why they did it, and what it did for them!

So, while I typically analyze an Instagram account and give you my thoughts, I'm excited to be able to share some "insider" knowledge with this post too 🙂

But, for the additional disclaimer. I am in no way affiliated with The Pier Cafe or the company that manages their social media accounts. Yes, I have eaten at the restaurant at some point over the 12 years since I originally moved to San Diego. But I am not being rewarded, compensated, or paid in any way to write this post.

I love to encourage the presence of restaurants on Instagram. I honestly believe they are one of the industries that can just dominate Instagram marketing and really produce results for their business. And The Pier Cafe has really figured out what works for them and how to use Instagram successfully.

To be perfectly honest, I think the reason I actually found out about this account on Instagram was through the #SMMW15 hashtag. I had been posting content to Instagram for a while in the months leading up to the conference and frequently perused the hashtag gallery to see what others were posting and getting ready for. And one of the things that came up regularly in the hashtag gallery was the content for The Pier Cafe.

This, of course, totally got me geeked out and excited to see a local business planning ahead so efficiently for a major local event. Just so you know, The Pier Cafe is literally right next to the Hyatt hotel where the conference was being held.

Using Local Event Hashtags

So, let's talk about why this was so paramount in the Instagram strategy for this restaurant.

In talking to the Instagram account manager, I found out that they learned a valuable lesson the year before (for #SMMW14). They tried to capitalize on the event hashtag DURING the conference in 2014 but found that their content got buried in all the fast moving content going on during the event. So, this year, they made a very concerted effort to start capitalizing on the hashtag BEFORE the event started.

And this was the key.

As Megan told me, "posting only during the event was too late - the hashtag was being used so fast & furiously that it was hard to 'be heard.' "

And this is something you should take into consideration if you plan on piggybacking off local event hashtags.

Expect that people will start posting about, and following, a local event BEFORE the event actually happens. To get extra traction and reach more people, start posting your content before the event. Increase your posting and hashtagging as the event approaches and continue posting throughout the event. The Pier Cafe did this wonderfully effectively!



So, to answer the burning question... how did this activity impact the restaurant directly? Here's what Megan told me:

  • Social media activity was "ten fold what it was last year" (side note disclaimer: Instagram is much more popular this year, and there were more attendees at the conference this year. But still, 10x more activity is a LOT!)
  • "SO MANY MORE groups had their Wed. & Thurs. lunch and dinner reservations" at the restaurant this year

So, yeah, I'd say this is working for them! And, yes, they do use this strategy for other conferences and events around the area.

Local events don't just have to be conferences (although these are great events to utilize!). You can look at any significant event that brings in tourists and patrons to your business location and area. Think about sporting events, concerts, seasonal or holiday celebrations, parades, family events, and more.

And don't just throw the hashtag into your post. Find ways to tailor it to the event! Show how close you are, how what you sell is relevant to the event, or other incentives. Give people a reason to want to include you in their visit to the area.

Strategic Use of Other Hashtags

Ok, in all reality, I could leave this post at talking about how The Pier Cafe used hashtags leading up to #SMMW15, but they do so much more right than just that! So let's look at what else they do well.

I know we already talked about how The Pier Cafe uses event hashtags effectively, but we all know how powerful hashtags are on Instagram. And The Pier Cafe does a really good job of using other hashtags in their strategy.

They use localized hashtags constantly in their posts. They typically add these to a subsequent comment (rather than in the caption) which is totally fine. But they use a variety of hashtags related to the geographical area, tourist attractions, and other hashtags that customers and visitors would be likely to be searching for on Instagram.

They make really good use of their personal hashtag #PierCafe which allows them to create their own gallery of content around their brand.

They take advantage of trendy or relevant themed hashtags. For example #FishFriday:



All of these hashtags allow them to reach their ideal target audience and bring in customers to their restaurant.

Great Photos and Content

The Pief Cafe posts awesome content that promotes their restaurant. It doesn't help that I'm pregnant right now and craving pretty much everything they display on their Instagram account 😉 But I seriously want to go there every day for lunch or dinner when I see their food posts!



I mean, that view and those delicious looking snacks.... I think it's time for a dinner break! 😉

But they don't just share their food. They showcase the restaurant and the surrounding area.



Whether you are a restaurant, a brick-and-mortar business, or an online business, you can learn a lot about how The Pier Cafe creates intrigue and desire around their Instagram content.

User Generated Content

Another way that The Pier Cafe is able to showcase their food and restaurant, without having to create their own content, is to share posts that others have created for them!

Whether it's using a hashtag or @mentioning the restaurant, customers are taking photos of their experience at the restaurant and sharing them to Instagram. The restaurant can then choose the images that best represent them and which remain inline with their branding, and repost these to their own account. This not only highlights another perspective to the audience, but it reinforces a community and relationship around their customers.



No matter what business you're in, I always advocate for using user generated content on your Instagram account.

Good Engagement and Responses

Another thing that you know I preach and love is when a company takes the time to respond to the comments and questions on their posts. And The Pier Cafe does a really good job of this.

It can be as simple as saying "Thank you" for a complimentary comment or taking the time to respond to a direct question. But they also take the time to personalize their message and gratitude when they share the user generated content. All of these little "things" add up to a well engaged and supportive audience.


As usual, I can't show you all the things they do right in just this one post. Please go take a look at The Pier Cafe on Instagram and see for yourself how they're using Instagram to grow their business.

I will say that I'd like to see them post a little more of the "workings" of the restaurant. Showcasing the employees (front and back of the house), food prep, restaurant decor, and more content that allows customers and their audience to connect even more intimately with the restaurant. But otherwise, this is a great (and results proven) account to represent how restaurants on Instagram can promote their business. And if you are in any sort of a business that is location based or in a tourist location or that has the opportunity for new audiences, take a good look at the lessons from this case study.

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