No matter how large a marketing department it has, a restaurant company simply can’t respond to every complaint or question it receives on its Facebook wall.
However, regardless of how many comments a restaurant brand answers, the speed at which the chain responds can give it a significant marketing advantage, according to Expion, a social-media management software firm.
Raleigh, N.C.-based Expion conducted a study of restaurant responsiveness on Facebook over a 90-day period from Feb. 15 to May 12, and ranked casual-dining chains as well as fast-casual and quick-service brands by which companies responded the fastest to messages posted by fans on their Facebook pages.
How many comments a restaurant may choose to answer is a matter of strategy, but speed is always imperative, said Peter Heffring, president of Expion, whose restaurant clients include Applebee’s Grill & Bar.
“If the comment truly is a post you should respond to, whatever that percentage may be, when you take the time to respond, you should do it quickly,” Heffring said. “Clearly, you can’t be taking a day to respond, and brands ought to strive to get around two to three hours. The percentage of responses is up to your strategy, like if you only respond to negative posts.”
Expion broke its study into two groups: casual-dining brands with at least 100,000 Facebook “likes,” and fast-casual or quick-service brands with at least 250,000 “likes.” Only chains’ responses to original wall posts from fans counted toward the brands’ rankings; comments within a post from the company did not factor into results. Expion did not differentiate whether the responses it tracked were answering positive or negative comments from fans.
Chipotle: 'Nearly everything warrants a response'
Chipotle Mexican Grill responded to comments on its Facebook wall in an average time of 1 hour and 37 minutes, which qualified as the fourth-fastest time in the quick-service and fast-casual group. Starbucks Coffee’s average response time of 34 minutes led all brands in Expion’s study.
The average response time for the fast-casual and quick-service grouping was 6 hours and 34 minutes. That segment’s average rate of response was 28 percent of all messages received on brands’ Facebook walls.
Chipotle led all fast-casual and quick-service chains in response rate, answering 83 percent of all questions, criticisms and commendations that fans left on the wall.
Chris Arnold, spokesman for Chipotle, said the brand has been locked out of its Facebook account on occasion because the platform reads its voracious commenting activity as spam.
The brand takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to answering comments on Facebook and Twitter, from a dedicated social-media manager down to staffers drawn from the local-store marketing and customer service teams.
“We think nearly everything warrants a response,” Arnold said. “For a company like ours where so much of the marketing is driven by word-of-mouth and things that feed word-of-mouth, these platforms are really great tools to use.”
KFC: Most comments ‘don’t require immediate response’
KFC takes a more selective approach to answering comments. While it takes 3 hours and 2 minutes on average to respond to wall posts, the brand only answered 9 percent of those comments in Expion’s 90-day study, which tied it with Panda Express for the lowest rate of response.
Like Chipotle, KFC has a “social-media squad” tasked with monitoring the brand’s Facebook page and responding to questions, complaints or commendations, said spokesman Rick Maynard. He said KFC’s discerning approach to responsiveness comes from prioritizing criticism above praise.
“A majority of the comments on our page are fairly general and don’t require an immediate response from us,” he said. “For the ones that fall into the customer service category, we respond to those as quickly as possible.”
KFC and Panda Express both rank in the top 10 for response time in the quick-service grouping.
“One of our key commitments is to respond to any customer needs as quickly as possible,” Maynard said. “It’s validating to know that we are above average in this area, but we are committed to doing even better.”
Casual brands take their time
As a segment, casual dining averaged more responses than quick service and fast casual, answering 32 percent of the messages posted on their Facebook pages. However, the segment’s average response time was slower on average at 8 hours and 56 minutes.
In that segment, Buffalo Wild Wings had the fastest response time, with an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes. The chicken wing specialist responded to 22 percent of its comments. Famous Dave’s led the segment in the rate of response, answering 89 percent of customer comments on its Facebook wall. The barbecue chain just missed the top 10 in the segment’s rankings of response time, answering in an average of 6 hours and 43 minutes.
Expion president Heffring speculated that the faster average response time for quick-service and fast-casual brands probably results from those brands’ larger scale and higher spending on social-media marketing. Larger brands are more likely to have extra staff or a marketing agency to help monitor their Facebook pages, even after normal business hours, he said.
“I would bet if I could do this study [accounting only for responses] from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the casual-dining restaurants and QSRs would be closer to each other on response time,” he said.