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Zaxby's Shrimpfluencer Event Image 8.jpg
Zaxby's is the latest restaurant brand to collaborate with TikToker #MiriTheSiren.

How El Pollo Loco, Zaxby’s, and Shake Shack are staying nimble on social media while stalwart Chick-fil-A is falling behind

Social media is the future of restaurant marketing, but some brands aren’t embracing the platform

TikToker “MiriTheSiren” was known for posting her creative Chick-fil-A meals, videos that were meant to inspire consumers to think of innovative ways to eat fast food. The TikToker, whose real name is Miri, was a Chick-fil-A employee, sharing how she mixed items at the store for her free meal every day.

Quickly, Miri gained a following with her videos going viral, garnering tens of millions of views on her videos between January and April of this year. But Chick-fil-A wasn’t happy.

The Atlanta-based chicken chain made Miri stop posting videos because they violated the employee handbook, as she explained, and the company would not be making an exception for her or collaborating on any future posts.

“People do that stuff as it’s convenient, and they back-burner more often,” said Lena Katz, lead, creator-integrated services at Ampersand (AOI-Pro). “Once one side begins to feel exploited, the relationship sours or ends.”

It is unclear if Miri has kept her job at Chick-fil-A. She did not respond to NRN’s request for comment.

While Chick-fil-A wasn’t willing to collaborate with Miri, one of its competitors was.

Within days of the announcement that Miri would cease making her Chick-fil-A videos, Shake Shack partnered with the creator.

New York City-based Shake Shack is no stranger to poking fun at Chick-fil-A and causing some friendly competition. Earlier this year, the fast-casual chain had a discount promotion for its chicken sandwiches on Sundays, the day Chick-fil-A is famously closed every week.

Miri’s first video with Shake Shack was a review of its chicken sandwich aligned with that promotion.

“No exaggeration, this might be the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had,” she said in the video.

But she didn’t stop there.

El Pollo Loco, known for its social-media presence, seized this moment and also hired Miri for promotional videos.

“When you’re looking at our content, when you’re seeing the individuals we’re working with, it comes back to community and individuals who are truly fans of us and we’re just as big of fans of them,” said El Pollo Loco CMO Jill Adams.

In a LinkedIn post announcing the partnership, El Pollo Loco’s director of digital, social, and PR, Patrick Benson, said, “ I gave [Miri] some advice on her newfound fame and being an influencer... and she told me about her love for El Pollo Loco and how it was one of her first meals with her uncle after she’d moved to California almost 7 years ago.”

Adams said that the Miri partnership is a good example of El Pollo Loco’s social strategy. The brand believes in partnering with influencers who are fans of the brand and who, in turn, are supported by El Pollo Loco’s team. Adams was wearing a sweatshirt from one of the influencers during her interview with NRN.

The first video Miri posted for El Pollo Loco was another review, this time of the brand’s chicken. The video’s caption said, “I know a thing or two about chicken,” poking fun at her start with Chick-fil-A and new partnership with Shake Shack.

“My biggest piece of advice for other brands is have it be true to you,” Adams said of influencer partnerships. “Otherwise, it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel like it's natural.”

Miri was such a good fit for both El Pollo Loco and Shake Shack not only because of her foodservice audience, but because of the consistency of her videos throughout the branding.

“The key is really about making sure we don’t let ourselves get in the way of partnering with influencers,” said Ryan Ostrom, chief marketing officer and executive VP at Jack in the Box, in an interview for the NRN Power List last month. “We set a wide range of guardrails, and we really want it to be as authentic as possible.”

So, what can restaurant operators take from this, other than that chicken is a highly competitive category? They have to seize a moment and be nimble enough to move when it happens.

“I see too many brands trying to plan ahead on their content calendars to capitalize on a ‘big’ cultural moment while trying to also chase the viral trends of the moment, and in expending all their energy on those two pursuits, they forget to look for their moments — as in, those little sparks of excitement and conversation that ignite in their own community of users,” said Katz, who used to work at TikTok.

In an interview for NRN’s Power List this year, Benson said, “If you’re not moving quickly, and moving at the speed of culture, you’re going to get left behind.”

Clearly El Pollo Loco is good at TikTok. The El Pollo Loco account, which Benson started just before the pandemic, has over 370 million views.

In mid-May, Miri added another restaurant company to her list: Zaxby’s.

She hosted the chicken brand’s Shrimpfluencer event in Georgia on May 10. The event was part of an influencer trip hosted by the fast-casual chain based in Atlanta.

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