Instagram is the most effective digital channel for consumer engagement, contributors on MCA’s Hostech modern marketing panel agreed last week.

The panel, which included representatives from start-up to well established operators, concluded that due to its emphasis on the local, its photo-format, and ability to give precedence to the customer voice, Instagram was the most valuable digital tool for speaking to customers.

Eve Bugler, founder of contemporary kebab restaurant Bababoom, revealed that approximately 85% of consumer engagement with the brand was through Instagram, with the remaining 15% shared across Twitter and Facebook.

“Our customers love using Instagram and they create a lot of our content for us,” she said. “Plus, the pictures look great and it’s a way of involving our customers in our journey.”

“Often people look at Instagram when they’re thinking about eating dinner, so I think it also cuts through to delivery as well. People might be scrolling through and then they go on to Deliveroo.”

JP Then, co-founder of London based donut concept Crosstown, put the success of Instagram as a marketing tool down to the ‘food porn’ movement, and said that it bridges the gap between advertising and purchasing through its ‘shopping through social’ feature.

“Given what our product is, we get a huge amount of social engagement with people posting pictures that are often better than our own,” he said. “It’s a great way for us to get free content. We have about 90,000 people engaging on Instagram versus about 10,000 across the other platforms. People love to share their eating moment and we have a product that suits that.”

“I think things are changing very quickly, especially with shopping through social. We’re having a lot of success in giving consumers the ability to purchase through Instagram so it’s quite powerful for us.”

As a more established brand - with 24 sites across the UK - Brewhouse & Kitchen “still feel that email is the strongest tool,” said Matt Presinger, head of marketing.

In terms of central marketing, Brewhouse “still treat the customers across our email database with more love than those who follow us on our socials,” but Presinger admitted that the importance of localised content in addition to the marketing choices made by staff at individual sites has meant that Instagram is becoming more important for the brand.

“We have a higher engagement on Instagram but a lot of it comes down to which platform the teams engage with most. We can push and centralise content but in terms of getting messages about events or brewing in different sites it has to go out locally,” he said.

“Most of our sites do a much better job at promoting through Instagram than they do with Facebook or Twitter, and that’s mostly to do with the team members put in charge of the social channels. They tend to be a bit younger and not as switched on to Facebook as they were previously, so Instagram is the channel that our sites are using the most.”

Anthony Gaskell, managing director EMEA of – an online reputation management service – added that whilst there were risks with all social media platforms in maintaining brand image and managing various digital environments, “the best form of marketing that we have today is the customer voice.”

“It’s about having your finger on the pulse at a local level and being able to engage with consumers in a specific community,” he said. “All the social media channels come with different challenges and Instagram pictures can be challenge in themselves because they can be interpreted in so many different ways, but ultimately, being able to communicate with a customer in the same way that they communicated with you is what we see as the best response in any environment.”

Other highlights from the panel discussion included the importance of responding to reviews – “feedback is the breakfast of champions,” said Bugler – as well as keeping discounts and offers off social media and differentiating between your online and offline consumer.