This is part of NRN's Restaurant Social Media Index coverage. Learn more. 
Brands atop the new Nation’s Restaurant News Restaurant Social Media Index show that the quality, not just the quantity, of fans and followers matters the most when trying to elevate a brand presence in social media.
The Restaurant Social Media Index, or RSMI, is brought to you by NRN and calculated and sponsored by DigitalCoCo, a social media analytics and digital branding firm for the restaurant industry. RSMI tracks and quantifies the social-media efforts of more than 600 restaurant brands by indexing mentions and the social-media engagement with more than 23 million consumers using thousands of keywords, menu items and restaurant terms indexed over the past two years.
More than 100 restaurant brands have submitted their profiles to the index since NRN and DigitalCoCo announced the project in August.
In this inaugural release of third-quarter data, the top 100 brands are showcased, and ranked on a 300-point index scale backed by a proprietary algorithm tallying numbers of followers and fans on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, influencer scores from providers like Klout and DigitalCoCo’s Social Insights platform.
“If [restaurants] don’t have a sustained strategy surrounding the brand to grow audience and engage them, it’s not going to do anything,” Paul Barron, founder of DigitalCoCo, said of social-media branding efforts. “In the digital world we can’t eat what [restaurants are] trying to talk about, but what we can do is learn about the brand.”
While sheer size in Twitter followers and Facebook “likes” doesn’t hurt Starbucks Coffee, for example, which had the No. 1 overall RSMI score of 243.2 out of 300, Barron said the bigger indicator of success for the coffee chain is the spread between it and the next largest chains. Starbucks’ 25.2 million likes lead McDonald’s 10.4 million likes by a large margin, but Starbucks’ dominance in Twitter followers — 1.7 million to 169,000 for Subway — has much more to do with its lead in overall RSMI score, Barron said.
“The big story in followers is the fact that Starbucks is able to convert its social audience fairly well on Twitter, where the bigger brands are still fairly low [in follower count] compared to their Facebook following,” Barron said.
Barron said the question his firm gets from restaurants most is on which social-media platform a brand should focus to maximize its digital-marketing return on investment. The data support an investment in Twitter, he said.
“Facebook is very powerful and tremendous for reaching a mass audience, but it’s an audience that may or may not dine out a lot,” he said. “The influencer audience in Twitter has the most potential impact for restaurants. You don’t need a lot of [influential followers], but you need to know who they are.”
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RSMI stars build up their Klout
Chains that moved up the RSMI rankings in the third quarter from preliminary data gathered this summer — Wendy’s, Outback Steakhouse and P.F. Chang’s — owed recent success to growth in their Twitter follower rosters and improvements in their Klout scores, Barron said.
Klout is an online platform that measures how much brands or people engage with other social-media users. Brands’ scores are higher — Barron said Klout scores in the 70s denote exemplary engagement — the more that influential people mention, retweet, like, or check-in with those restaurants online.
“One of the biggest surprises to me was Wendy’s,” Barron said. “Their position leaping over McDonald’s is impressive, since McDonald’s was No. 2 overall when we did our first peek in the second quarter.”
Wendy’s, whose 221.9 RSMI score was second overall, grew its Twitter follower base by 17,379 people, an 86.5-percent increase. Its Klout score rose 21 points to 84, tied with Starbucks for the highest Klout score. Wendy’s achieved that higher measurement of engagement by using its Twitter handle not to promote new products but rather to respond to thousands of tweets, either thanking a user for sharing a positive experience or resolving complaints in negative tweets.
Outback Steakhouse led all restaurants in the third quarter with a 31-percent growth in its Klout score, to 68. Outback finished fifth overall in the RSMI rankings, with a score of 192.6. As was the case with Wendy’s, the vast majority of Outback’s tweets were responding to guests, though the brand did a fair amount of promoting its Great Aussie Steak Out in August and September, in which it gave away 1 million free steaks.
P.F. Chang’s, whose 187.9 RSMI score earned the brand the No. 7 ranking, grew its Twitter followers by 85.8 percent and its Facebook likes by 166.8 percent in the third quarter. While P.F. Chang’s puts an emphasis on responding to guests’ tweets and Facebook comments, it promoted more of its special offers on social media.
But Barron pointed out that the brand’s efforts went beyond the Free Lettuce Wrap Giveaway on Facebook and online-ordering specials promoted on Twitter. “It’s all about content,” Barron said, and P.F. Chang’s linked to special content it created, like videos on its YouTube channel and a microsite for its Triple Happiness Happy Hour.
Because Klout changed its algorithm on Oct. 26, shifting more emphasis toward network engagement in calculating scores, the fourth-quarter RSMI totals are likely reflect some change, Barron said. Klout only makes up about a third of the RSMI score.
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Smaller brands, big impact
Branded microsites paid off for other chains, too, like 10-unit Sweetgreen, whose site for its “Sweet Life Festival” helped it achieve the No. 25 RSMI score of 170.6. Barron also pointed out microsites that moved the needle on Twitter growth for Firehouse Subs, Pei Wei Asian Diner and Mooyah.
Barron cited AJ Bombers, a casual-dining restaurant in Milwaukee that just opened a second location in Madison, Wis., as an independent brand catering to an influential social-media following. AJ Bombers had the No. 33 RSMI ranking. That restaurant directs people to its Burger Whisperer menu blog through different social networks and rewards Foursquare check-ins with a “royalty loyalty” menu for guests who check in the most.
At its Madison opening, AJ Bombers rewarded check-ins by giving people free access to its 4G Wi-Fi.
El Pollo Loco and McAlister’s Deli had smaller bases of Facebook likes than the bigger national chains, but they had the two largest increases in likes in the third quarter.
El Pollo Loco’s 45,900 new likes represented a 434-percent growth in the quarter, powered by its “Feel the Mexcellence” campaign. Much of that effort sought interaction on the Facebook page with poll questions.
McAlister’s Deli garnered more than 88,000 additional likes for a 265-percent increase in the quarter, thanks to its Tea Town USA Facebook contest.
El Pollo Loco placed at No. 30 with a 165.8 score, and McAlister’s placed at No. 72, with a 143.8 score.
Ron Ruggless contributed to this article.
Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN