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California Tortilla: Lessons learned from Facebook promo

California Tortilla marketing director Stacey Kane increased the 36-unit chain’s Facebook fan roster by nearly 50 percent and brought about a 10-percent same-store sales increase by spending less than $700 total on a social-media promotion one Wednesday in March.

However, she overlooked one important detail: That Wednesday was March 9, Ash Wednesday, when many observant Christians would probably not be eating the free taco the chain was offering Facebook fans.

“The biggest thing I would do differently would be to look at a calendar so I knew it was Ash Wednesday,” Kane said. “But it ended up fostering this amazing good will. One person would point out on Facebook that, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this on Ash Wednesday,’ and then all the fans reacted and defended this brand before I had a chance to respond.”

The chain’s offer on Facebook was designed to become more generous the more people “liked” the brand on the social network. California Tortilla began the promotion March 1 with less than 11,000 likes, and the brand promised a coupon for a free order of chips and queso to every fan if the number of likes hit 13,000. The chain hit that milestone by 3 p.m. that first day, Kane said.

California Tortilla then changed the offer to a free taco for every fan when it garnered 15,000 likes and promised to convert the coupon to one for a free burrito if it reached 25,000. The promotion ended March 8 with slightly more than 16,000 likes.

The whole Facebook promotion cost California Tortilla only $682 in food, Kane said. On March 9, same-store sales increased 10 percent compared with a year earlier and trended 6 percent higher than the three previous Wednesdays. About 200 people e-mailed Kane to get coupons that could be redeemed on a day other than Ash Wednesday.

“About 70 percent of people [redeeming the free-taco coupon] didn’t just take the freebie and went on to spend our average ticket,” Kane said.

She added that the escalating-offer format was not meant to mimic a group-buying discount —where an appealing discount only gets released when a certain number of people agree to download and redeem it — but rather to add some competition and excitement to the promotion.

“We knew people would rally around it, but we had no idea where it would stop,” she said. “I wasn’t disappointed that we didn’t hit the 25,000 mark, because the people who did get involved were super-passionate fans of ours. Forget the other metrics; based just on customer engagement, people got so excited that it was a win from that perspective.”

Kane added that California Tortilla would try the Facebook contest again and is exploring doing something similar through Twitter. The two most popular social-media platforms will factor largely into the chain’s upcoming efforts to rebrand some time in the summer, she said.

“Promotions like this increase our reach and our frequency,” Kane said. “We interact with our customers outside the store via our email list twice a month. So now, if I’ve converted a large percentage of e-mail club folks to Facebook or Twitter, it’s another way to reach them without annoying them. Because of the nature of social media, more stuff will stick about us out there.”

Rockville, Md.-based California Tortilla operates in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

TAGS: Marketing
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