How Chipotle is harnessing a new social media app to drive Gen Z engagement

The fast-casual chain’s recent challenges on video-sharing app TikTok have received millions of views.
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill is the first major restaurant brand to market itself on TikTok—a relatively new social media platform that’s popular with Gen Z—and the chain is reaping high user engagement numbers from its efforts.

TikTok, which started in China in 2017 and became the most downloaded app in the U.S. about a year ago, allows users to create and share short videos. It’s especially popular with those born between 1997 and 2012.

Panera Bread made headlines a couple of weeks ago when a (since fired) employee posted a video to TikTok of her reheating a frozen bag of the chain’s macaroni and cheese.

Chipotle’s official presence on TikTok began after the chain noticed “organic” content about the brand frequently appearing on the app, said Tressie Lieberman, Chipotle’s vice president of digital marketing and off-premise.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain first posted on the app last summer, when a Maryland Chipotle employee had a customer film a video of him flipping a lid from one of the fast-casual chain’s bowls. The video, which was originally posted to Instagram, has received more than 1 million views.

“We instantly knew from the reaction that this was the right content to start our first partnership with TikTok, inviting our customers to try the lid flip trick for themselves with a branded hashtag challenge,” Lieberman said.

So far, there have been more than 100,000 lid flip challenge video submissions. And the original video has more than 277 million views on TikTok.

In July, the chain launched a #GuacDance campaign on the app, which helped to drive Chipotle’s biggest Guacamole Day in history, with more than 802,000 sides of guacamole served. The campaign received more than 250,000 video submissions under the hashtag, and Chipotle’s original video has been viewed 1 billion times.

In October, Chipotle rolled out its third TikTok challenge, this one timed to Halloween and offering free burritos for a year for the winners of a #Boorito transformation challenge.

“We believe that it is important to experiment with new ways to engage Chipotle fans,” Lieberman said. “Being the first restaurant brand to partner with TikTok, we wanted to be an early mover and start understanding how to best use the platform. We are constantly testing and learning across both owned stories and tentpole campaigns.”

The chain has a “team of culture hunters,” Lieberman said, who listen in on social media conversations and assess new platforms that would be beneficial for Chipotle to join. For example, Chipotle worked with payment app Venmo earlier this year to create a custom emoji that would break into conversations people were having about the chain. The company also has a presence on photo editing app VSCO.

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