Restaurant chains continued to drive Facebook engagement in the first quarter of 2013 by promoting products in relevant ways, according to a new report from social media software and strategy firm Expion.
Raleigh, N.C.-based Expion found that restaurants were more efficient in engaging Facebook users in the first quarter, driving a per-post average of 3,429 “fan actions” — the total of all likes, comments and shares of any post — in 8,208 total Facebook posts. In the fourth quarter of 2012, brands wrote a total of 8,719 Facebook posts, but garnered an average of 3,350 fan actions per post.
Expion chief strategy officer Mike Heffring said restaurants like Applebee’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks found ways to talk about their brands and offerings in compelling yet conversational ways.
“How are brands getting it right? For one thing, they started to learn that Facebook isn’t just about entertaining fans, and now content is getting more brand-specific,” Heffring said. “They’re making it brand-relevant by looking at what people really value about their restaurant — not just what menu items they’re doing, but what makes them different.”
Fourteen brands produced the 100 Facebook posts by restaurants with the most likes, comments and shares in the first quarter. Applebee’s had 30 of those top posts, Starbucks had 15, Taco Bell had 13 and McDonald’s had 11.
Other brands with a post in that top 100 included Buffalo Wild Wings, The Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Olive Garden, Papa John’s, Red Lobster, Subway, Texas Roadhouse and Wendy’s.
Subway’s post promoting its “FebruANY” promotion for the $5 Footlong earned the most fan actions in the first quarter, garnering 418,403 total likes, shares and comments. A McDonald’s post about the Premium McWrap followed, netting 273,425 total fan actions. Starbucks and Taco Bell also had posts in the top quartile for fan actions, promoting the Hazelnut Macchiato and Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, respectively.
Brands are also using more compelling images in Facebook posts, Heffring added, sourcing photos from customers’ mobile uploads to Instagram or Facebook and relying less on standard food photography. Text in the posts also contains fewer words, he noted, but those shorter messages better target users with key words.
The brand-relevant approach should benefit restaurants as Facebook further evolves its model to push more advertising with sponsored stories in people’s news feeds.
“There is another shift occurring,” Heffring said. “With Facebook, everything last year was about improving engagement for brands. But now Facebook is promoting its advertising as more relevant to brands in order to push Facebook as a reach medium in addition to being an engagement medium.”
As a result, while restaurants and other brands still try to tell compelling brand stories on Facebook, they also are likely to focus more on specific menu items or limited-time offers in the form of sponsored stories.
Applebee's gets back on message
Kansas City, Mo.-based Applebee’s, an Expion client, had 30 of the 100 Facebook posts with the most fan actions in the first quarter, but many comments driving that engagement at the beginning of the quarter were extremely negative.
A controversy erupted over social media in late January after an Applebee’s server posted a photo to Reddit of a receipt on which an Applebee’s customer snubbed her server of a tip, claiming she “gave God 10 percent” and would not give the server the 18-percent gratuity requested on the receipt. When the Applebee’s franchise fired the server who posted the picture for violating corporate policy, the backlash against the brand played out in the comments section of its Facebook posts.
Anger over the receipt photo and news of the server’s dismissal drove much of the fan actions for Applebee’s immediately after the incident. The brand’s five posts with the most fan actions in the first quarter all occurred in January, when more than 3,000 comments apiece critical of the brand took over posts about Applebee’s Under 550 Calories menu.
Yet Applebee’s managed to regain control of the situation, Heffring noted. After the brand addressed the incident directly with a Facebook post on Jan. 31, fan actions began to level off on Applebee’s Facebook posts through February.
In March, the brand started a “March Madness” posting theme that asked fans to like a post in support of a menu item, or share the same post to support another menu item in a head-to-head matchup. Applebee’s started to get likes and shares driving its engagement again, while the negative comments became much more sporadic, Heffring said.
Papa John’s wins by sharing
Louisville, Ky.-based Papa John’s was the only pizza chain to land the in top 100 posts for the first quarter based on total fan actions.
The chain's two posts in the top 100 garnered the ninth and 17th most total fan actions, Heffring noted, but those posts had the third and fourth largest totals of shares for the quarter, with 19,810 shares and 18,210 shares, respectively.
Both posts were part of a five-post series in February about Papa John’s initiative to raise $50,000 for the Salvation Army to combat childhood hunger in the United States. The posts featured pictures of hungry children and began, “No child should go to bed or have to wake up hungry.” Papa John’s pledged to donate $1 to the Salvation Army for every like or share up to $50,000, and the brand hit that fundraising goal in one day.
Heffring said the five posts Papa John’s wrote for its Salvation Army fundraising effort accounted for 78 percent of all the brand’s fan actions in the first quarter.
“Papa John’s posts were amazing,” Heffring said, “and it was a good example of leverage and use of social cause marketing. They were very efficient and got quite a lot of credit and connection within their fan base for this.”
The brand’s two posts trailed content from The Cheesecake Factory and Taco Bell for the most-shared posts of the quarter. Cheesecake’s post of a humorous “e-card” cartoon equating chocolate to a vegetable because it is made from beans was shared 24,208 times, while a photo promoting Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell was shared 23,463 times.
Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
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