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Behind the social media curtain at Taco Cabana

A look at the chain’s new efforts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

The 156-unit Taco Cabana chain has crafted a highly integrated marketing program that tightly knits actress-comedian Anjelah Johnson and her social media fan base into its own television advertising and social efforts.

As restaurants wrestle with how to best tap the burgeoning social media platforms, the San Antonio-based division of Carrols Restaurant Group Inc. has found a way to capitalize on its own Facebook and Twitter accounts with the use of a celebrity like Johnson, who herself has more than 30,900 Twitter followers.

Taco Cabana began featuring Johnson in June and will continue using her through the end of the year. Johnson is widely known as a YouTube phenomenon (nearly 48 million hits so far) for her “MadTV” role as “Bon Qui Qui at King Burger.”

“Consumers want to be in the know,” said Todd Coerver, Taco Cabana’s chief marketing officer. “They want to be the source of information, the influencer in their peer group.

“Social media allows brands to provide inside information and sneak previews, turning brand loyalists into brand champions,” he said. “In social media, exclusive knowledge is currency that can be traded on to build a brand and its following.”

The Taco Cabana social-media effort includes:

-Mentions and photo links by @AnjelahJohnson on her Twitter feed to more than 30,900 followers.
-A “Tweet to Eat” coupon for free food to Twitter followers if @TacoCabana reaches a weekly goal of mentions. The program starts on Tuesday.
-Behind-the-scenes videos and outtakes of the advertising shoots that are posted to both the Facebook pages of Johnson and Taco Cabana. The Taco Cabana website also includes a live window into the chain’s Facebook page.
-The website also includes a link to a subsite called “One of Anjelah’s strongest fan bases is in Texas, where we have most of our stores,” Coerver said. “She can drive traffic to” Taco Cabana has 146 of its 156 restaurants in Texas.
-YouTube posts that include snippets from Johnson’s in-arena videos for the “Kiss Cam” sponsored by Taco Cabana for the San Antonio Spurs games.
-A fan video contest with a $1,000 prize that engages other fans in voting for the finalists through July 27.

VIDEO: Anjelah Johnson on her new role at Taco Cabana.

Jennifer Lopez, marketing manager for Taco Cabana, explained, “We have different ‘buckets’ for the way people want to be communicated with.”

Taco Cabana is embracing the levels of technology that Millennial customers, those ages 16 to 34, are themselves using.

Jeff Fromm, senior vice president of sales, marketing and innovation at the marketing agency Barkley, which recently released a study on the younger, consumer group, said restaurant operators should look for opportunities to use websites to create online experiences that can be integrated with customer experiences.

“Millennials are digital natives,” Fromm said. “If you can create an experience online that’s pure play, not research, that creates added value for them.”

RELATED: How restaurants can reach Millenials

Coerver said the social-media efforts are the second phase of Taco Cabana’s marketing campaign, which last year focused on the quality of the food.

“This is layering the fun side of Taco Cabana after we’ve communicated that we’re serious about the food dimension of the brand,” he said. “We brought in Anjelah Johnson as our spokesperson to provide a fun, vibrant, irreverent campaign around the serious food.”

Partnering with Johnson, who has her own blog as well, has quickly enhanced Taco Cabana’s social media identity, Coerver said.

“By hitching our wagon to hers, it’s helped us amp up our social media presence in a much quicker fashion than we could do on our own,” he added. “She gets millions of hits on YouTube. She’s already so credible online. We’re creating a lot of exposure online that way.”

Since last year, Taco Cabana has refreshed a number of its stores, completing the Dallas-Fort Worth market and tackling Austin, Texas, next, Coerver said.

Taco Cabana’s parent, Carrols Restaurant Group Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y., in February announced plans to split its 305-unit Burger King operation from its 280-unit business operating and franchising Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana.

For the first quarter ended April 3, Taco Cabana revenues increased 2.2 percent, to $63.4 million, compared to $62 million in the same period a year earlier. Taco Cabana’s same-store sales increased 2 percent, the company reported.

See Taco Cabana's latest Tweets.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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