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Applebee’s on its new Facebook strategy

Hyperlocal social-media offering could change restaurant deal game

Facebook, one of the biggest names in social media, has upgraded its Places feature in ways that operators and social-media experts say will benefit the nation’s biggest restaurant chains — mainly by allowing large chains to execute or modify promotions at the unit level.

With added management tools to Facebook Places, “parent” brands can create and manage a Facebook page for every “child” location in its system.

Scott Gulbransen, Applebee’s director of social media and digital content, said more local functionality in Facebook Places should give the Lenexa, Kan.-based chain a way to quickly execute and modify Facebook offers at the unit level, like a recent “Girls’ Night Out” promotion.

Gulbransen spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about how the new Facebook Places could expand the “local social” marketing space for large chains.

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The Facebook Places update seems to present a tradeoff to restaurants: You have your work cut out for you in claiming and managing the many “child” – or unit – locations, but there are greater opportunities to distribute store-level offers and deals.

The relationship we have with our provider helps because they help us claim our locations and handle response needs, so outsourcing is just easier. I congratulate Facebook for understanding the needs of companies like ours. If you have multiple units the scale of ours, you have unique problems. At first, Facebook Deals and Groupon made it easier for local, single units to do these offers, and now they’re getting focused on larger brands. We have 42 franchisees and 2,000 restaurants, so we showed the need to do more significant offers in different, regional ways.

Applebee’s has done some brand-wide Facebook offers, but how does having more local capabilities augment its strategy?

We think it validates the approach we took from the beginning, trying to bring the brand promise of the neighborhood [restaurant] to life. To pay off that relationship with the guest at the local level, you have to have that control, and it also needs to be able to scale. It’s going to help everybody in the space because we can adjust offers based on market conditions, which we couldn’t do before without spending a ton of money. Now we can switch offers quickly and swap them out efficiently, whereas before it was much more clunky and we had to redevelop and redeploy them one at a time. You also can pull some triggers on offers and communications to drive traffic [on a] day or daypart where you need it.

Does this change the competition for location-based social media against sites like Foursquare?

Facebook has glommed on to the needs of big brands with large footprints … and they’re the first to market. There’s still a lot of shakeout that needs to happen in the geo-location space. But the numbers speak for themselves: 90 percent of check-ins are happening on Facebook. Love them or hate them, they’re leading the way in that space too, and brands like ours have to fish where the fish are.

Gowalla and Foursquare have a hip factor to them, but over time, it’ll be hard to not see Facebook winning here. Google Plus just rolled out and can integrate Google Places, and to me, if there’s going to be any big competition among geo-location sites, Google might try to play there and become the big competitor to Facebook.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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