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The Social Marketing Revolution

Guerrilla marketing has taken a decidedly tech turn. Pros: It's cheap and effective. Cons: What's Twitter again?  

When times get tough, budgets get slashed—and marketing can be hit pretty hard. Yet surprisingly, one area of marketing—social media—is seeing an influx of dollars. According to a survey of 145 interactive marketers by Forrester Research, not only is the use of social media on the rise, over 50 percent of the sample—representing a range of company types, from 250 to over 20,000 employees—say they will be increasing their spending in the coming months.

Part of the reason is the low cost of social media. Viral marketing through blogs and YouTube, social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter—a mini-blogging community—and user-generated content such as Yelp! is a bargain compared to TV, radio or display ads; the tools are free, with expenses coming from

the time to brand and manage the pieces. “Having a Web site doesn’t do enough to differentiate a restaurant anymore,” claims Kevin Chen, a restaurant marketing specialist with New Media Decisions of Portland, Oregon. “Social media does more than provide information—it’s a means of engagement and communication with your guests.” And the audience is receptive: Some 60 percent of American adults use social media and of those, 85 percent believe a company should use social media to interact with its customers, according to the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study.

Restaurant concepts are getting with the program, some more quickly than others. These pioneers have already seen some very positive results in terms of increased Web site and store traffic, redemption of coupons, purchase of gift cards and the buzz building around the brand, online and off. 

Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes
San Diego, California

The plan: A social media campaign—using Facebook and Twitter—launched in February, 2009, to increase customer loyalty and store visits. The restaurant chain’s Facebook page includes fan photos and message boards, and through Twitter a Valentine’s Day promotion invited followers to relate just what made their “Sweetie So Sweet.” In March, they asked people via Twitter to share “Favorite Childhood Food Memories,” reinforced through  a memory game on Facebook  to tie in with Souplantation’s Creamy Tomato Soup menu promotion. And April’s interactivity reflected the concept’s lemon-inspired menu items. Consumers were asked to fill in the blank—“When life hands you lemons...”—with a clever response and post their best photo of a pucker face. The winners got free meal passes.

The results: By mid-March, Souplantation had 2,000 Twitter  and Facebook fans. Although these social networks have analytic tools to measure engagement, “it’s not always about numbers—it’s more about building relationships for the long term,” contends Web manager Ginger Anderson. “Our goal is to engage customers and get them talking.”

Questions and comments on Twitter get repeated continuously through “retweets” of the original message, and a number of customer service issues have been resolved and queries answered in minutes that way. Plus, Red Door, the chain’s agency, leveraged fan interaction to revise Souplantation’s Facebook page. “Our most passionate followers are uploading user-generated content to Facebook in response to our promotions,” says Crosby Noricks, Social Media Strategist for Red Door.  

She adds that social media does take time on the part of the marketing team. Alerts have to be put in place so Twitter followers and Facebook fans know that someone is listening and can respond quickly. Both Red Door and Souplantation monitor the networks several times throughout the day.

Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill
Orlando, Florida

The plan:  A new Web site  incorporating many social media elements to reach consumers on a more localized and personal level. With its updated brand image as a high-energy bar and grill, Smokey Bones is targeting “social starters”—guests who like to get out and socialize and are heavy users of cellphones, text messaging and social media for sharing information. “Age doesn’t matter. We’re really talking about a type of person,” says Pete Bell, VP of marketing for Smokey Bones.

To boost traffic and showcase the rebranding, agency Push came up with the idea of enlisting a Web Host at each of the chain’s 68 locations. When users browse the store locator to find the Smokey Bones nearest them, they can meet the Web Host, view photos of recent celebrations and check out a calendar of upcoming events. The Web Hosts are also responsible for “friending” potential customers and managing a MySpace and Facebook page to connect with locals. Plus, they are equipped with a custom iPhone application, created solely for them, to gather names, e-mails, mobile phone numbers and birthdays and add them to the Bones Club database in real time.

Smokey Bones’ marketing budget is now 75 percent social media, 25 percent traditional (focusing on FSIs or freestanding inserts)—a turnaround from last year’s 25-75 mix.

The results: While it’s early in the game to evaluate Web Host results, Bell says he is “extremely pleased with the program as an awareness building vehicle.” In the first month, there was a 75 percent increase in visitors to the Smokey Bones Web site and very good customer feedback about the site on Facebook and MySpace.

Austin, Texas

The plan: Drive sales of its baseball-themed menu promotion by integrating social media with virtual games,online fantasy teams and other Web 2.0 tools. To publicize the March launch of three Big League Clubz sandwiches—Beef ’n Bacon Club, Chick ’n Turkey Club and  Ham ’n Turkey Club  —this casual chain created a microsite, www.BigLeagueClubz.com, to coordinate marketing efforts. Here, fans can join a Big League Clubz club, enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, play video games and download a branded desktop widget to keep track of baseball scores and stats. Those who interact by playing games or signing up for Schlotzky’s e-newsletter earn bonus sweepstakes entries. And through Facebook, fans can draft a fantasy baseball team with friends.

“It’s our first venture into social media marketing,” says Michelle Bythewood, brand VP of marketing for Schlotzky’s. “We wanted to do a well-rounded test to see how it would work for us, so we’re trying many channels and really exploring outside the box. ”

The results: It’s difficult to pinpoint and measure results when you use social media, Bythewood admits, but people are talking about Schlotzky’s “and that can only be good.” Matrixx, the California-based agency that is masterminding the promotion, also uses bloggers to spread the word. In the first 10 days of the promotion, which is running until May 31, BigLeagueClubz.com garnered 53,000 views. Response can also be tracked—and e-mail addresses collected—by the number of people downloading the widget and entering the sweepstakes. Right now, Schlotzky’s has 260,000 in its database who have opted in for promotions; one intention of the Big League Clubz campaign is to add to that list.

Social graces

So you joined Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. Now what?

Don’t just sit there—do something! The social media sites all provide detailed logistics and support under their “Help” sections. And there are plenty of social networking blogs and user forums where seasoned members share strategies.

Enlist a dedicated member of your staff to monitor and contribute to Twitter, Facebook and restaurant-related sites like Eater and Yelp! Engagement is the way to build your brand.

Get your chef or menu team to “tweet” regularly on Twitter about specials of the day, excitement over a local fruit or vegetable that just came into season or an appetizer in development.

Teach your best patrons how to post on Twitter, Yelp! and Eater, if they aren’t doing so already.

Incorporate social media as a regular line item in your marketing budget and concentrate on measurable objectives. Reports Forrester Research: “Businesses need to understand that social media efforts should be analyzed for effectiveness based on things like customer awareness through activity, interest through interaction and intent to buy through registration and/or questions. These are the types of successes that social media can deliver; less important are traditional Web analytics like page views.”

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