Restaurants seeking engagement with their Facebook fans are most likely to achieve their goals by asking customers to offer their opinions, according to new research from Expion.
The consulting and social-media software provider perused all the Facebook posts made over the summer by the 50 most well-liked restaurant brands to determine which messages elicited the most comments from Facebook users. By a vast majority, open-ended posts asking people to answer questions or give feedback provoked more responses than posts in which a brand merely touts a new menu item or promotion, Expion found.
The approach a restaurant takes on Facebook should depend on where that brand is in its social-media lifecycle, Mike Heffring, chief strategy officer for Raleigh, N.C.-based Expion, said.
While promotional posts usually don’t get the level of response seen for more engagement-oriented messages, he said, they typically are the tools for building a restaurant’s fan base. But he suggested asking for feedback — along the lines of “What’s your favorite thing about this brand?” — as that roster of fans grows.
“The first thing for me would probably be to do something promotional, because you know what works with that already,” Heffring said. “Then I’d get people to talk more about what they like about your brand, be it the menu or the atmosphere or whatever.”
Expion’s study of the most engaging Facebook posts was limited to the 50 restaurant brands with the most Facebook “likes.” Between June 1 and Aug. 31, those 50 chains made more than 3,600 posts on Facebook.
To compile its rankings, Expion tracked only the number of comments — “likes” for individual posts were not counted — each message received.
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The post that earned the most comments this past summer came from Buffalo Wild Wings, which drew 6,521 responses by asking this fill-in-the-blank question: “Beer is _________.”
Expion took a closer look at the top 100 most-commented-upon posts of the summer, from Buffalo Wild Wings’ message down to post No. 100 from Domino’s Pizza, which elicited 1,342 responses.
Those top 100 posts came from 18 restaurant chains. Buffalo Wild Wings led all brands, with 20 of the top 100 messages, followed by Pizza Hut, 14 posts; Taco Bell, 13 posts; Starbucks, nine posts; and Applebee’s, eight posts.
But enough about me
The firm then took those 100 posts with the most total comments and divided the number of comments for each message by the number of Facebook “likes” that brand has, in order to normalize the results among chains with as many fans as Starbucks Coffee’s 24.9 million people or as few as Jack in the Box’s 444,373 people as of Aug. 31.
Based on this comments-per-Facebook-fan ratio, Chili’s Grill & Bar had the most comments on a normalized basis with a promotional post from June: “This is the last weekend of Margarita Madness! We’ve got two $150 party packs for lucky, random fans.”
However, such a high level of engagement with a promotion-heavy post was the exception, rather than the rule, Expion found. The top 100 posts had only nine messages classified as either product-focused or promotion-focused. There were 37 food questions like “My all-time favorite pizza topping is ______,” 22 fill-in-the-blank questions, 15 versus questions like “Soft tacos or crunchy tacos,” and 11 trivia questions.
“The idea behind social media is that it’s about things that I like … so start getting people to think about their preferences,” Heffring said. “Ask them if they like your chicken or your steak. Tell them you’re trying to figure out the food you offer today or could offer in the future, and that you’re listening for their suggestions on how to improve things.”
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Seven brands dominated the top 20 most-commented posts on a normalized basis: Applebee’s with eight, Chili’s with four, Outback with three, Buffalo Wild Wings with two, and one post apiece for Jack in the Box, Pizza Hut and Red Lobster.
Let’s talk about you
Heffring advised restaurants to keep things quick and simple when going for more engagement with the open-ended posts meant to spark discussion.
When restaurants try to use a conversational tone in their Facebook posts, they run the risk of making those posts too long and losing people’s interest, Heffring said. Short, snappy messages in fun formats get more engagement than a post that rambles, he said.
However, brands must take the time to vary their posts between promoting their products and engaging customers or among different post formats, Heffring said.
“Doing promotional posts all the time has the same wear-out effect as if you only used fill-in-the-blank questions,” Heffring said. “When are promotions most effective for you? Typically around annual events or seasons. The top post of all this past summer [when normalizing the number of comments for the size of the fan base] was from Chili’s, and all it basically said was, ‘This is the last week of Margarita Madness.’”
Expion’s restaurant industry clients include Applebee’s, Famous Dave’s, Hurricane Grill & Wings, Brinker International, Don Pablo’s, and Chevy’s Fresh Mex.