Twitter in the Restaurant Industry

I wrote a blog post about social media in the restaurant industry yesterday and wanted to follow that up with a more detailed analysis of how restaurant brands are using Twitter.  I expanded on my list from yesterday and now include the top 10 restaurant brands and Twitter handles as identified in National Restaurant News:

Top 10 Restaurant Brands on Twitter as of 1/6/10

As you can see, only Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are really exploiting the Twitter channel based on the number of followers and the level of tweets.  And Burger King and Wendy’s are dismally failing on Twitter and appear to have given up their Twitter experiment after only 1 tweet.  The other top brands are doing just ok on Twitter and I would grade them a C or C- due to low numbers of followers, low number of lifetime tweets and inconsistent tweeting patterns.  One final intriguing insight from the analysis above is the wide disparity for all brands between the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

So, how should restaurant brands be using Twitter?

Here’s what I think.  Most people have a fairly set number of restaurants that they frequent during the year and most places are near where they live and how they match their lifestyle.  As a family, there are probably 10 or 12 restaurants that we”ll visit over the course of the year.  Because we like variety, we’ll eat at the restaurants at the top of the list 5 or 6 times per year and about 2 or 3 times per year for the restaurants near the bottom.  The challenge and opportunity for the restaurants in my ‘stable’ of restaurants is how do you move up our list so we’ll increase the frequency of our visits.   This is where social media could come into play.  While none of the restaurants I frequent are using social media effectively, I know I would be more likely to frequent restaurants who do a good job of keeping in contact with me by tweeting interesting facts, tips, reminders about my favorite meal, announcements of new promotions or menu items, etc.  As the old saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind” – and social media can help to keep and increase brand buzz.  In my case, Twitter offers immediacy and is the best way for a brand to reach out to me to increase their mindshare, to send targeted marketing messages and to interact with me.

As such, brands should be leveraging Twitter to touch each of these core functions:

  1. Corporate mindshare – use Twitter to evoke positive images of the brand such as tweets with new products, blog posts, corporate news and profiles of employees/locations
  2. Targeted marketing – use Twitter to make tweets about marketing campaigns and promos; promote different restaurants or menu items
  3. Customer interaction – use Twitter to listen to what customers are saying about the brand and create a Twitter dialog with customers who post comments about the brand

Most of the other top 10 brands seem to be doing fairly well on the Customer Interaction reason, but only Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are really using trackable URLs to push people to their website or marketing promotions.  Unless you can track the clicks, it is very hard to measure any level of return on investment (ROI).  Other than the Dunkin’ Donut yeDDi promotion, I didn’t see any marketing promotions or campaigns.  Starbucks had a number of tweets about their new mobile apps and the only way I found out about it was via Twitter.

McDonald’s is an interesting case in that the link from their Twitter page goes to the “Meet the Tweeps” page. This is a nice touch that identifies the 11 associates tweeting on behalf of McDonalds and provides a brief bio snapshot of each tweep.  Plus, @McDonalds adds an identifier at the end of each tweet to signal who is authoring the tweet (^abc where abc stands for the tweep’s initals or name abbreviation).  However, McDonald’s seems to use Twitter almost exclusively for customer interaction and rarely tweets a trackable URL.  I counted just 5 tweeted URLs over their last 100+ messages.

To assist all restaurant brands, I have jotted down some simple Twitter rules to follow with the Twitter strategy broken into the components of acquiring followers and tweeting:

Acquiring Followers

Consistent and steady growth in the number of followers is key.  The tips for acquiring new followers include:

  1. Follow anyone who tweets about the brand
  2. Follow top Twitterers in each zip codes/areas where the brand has a restaurant
  3. Automatically follow back anyone who follows the brand
  4. Post a link to the Twitter account prominently on the brand
  5. Display Twitter link prominently on your website, in stores and in all outbound communications

Tweeting

Here are the simple guidelines for tweeting:

  1. Contribute 5 to 10 original tweets per day; for example, plug new blog posts, promote marketing campaigns, announce corporate news, and discuss general news relating to nutrition or food/restaurant industry
  2. Tweets should be spaced evenly (hourly) throughout the day and it is ok to re-tweet popular tweets (both HootSuite and CoTweet allow you to schedule tweets)
  3. Add a short URL (bitly or owly) to as many tweets as possible so tweets can be easily tracked – never use a URL in a tweet that cannot be tracked
  4. Re-tweet all positive tweets about the brand
  5. @reply to anyone who tweets about the brand (positive or negative comments)
  6. Don’t get into public Twitter fights with customers – take divisive issues offline with direct Tweets

Brands should also consider sending an automated thank you message to all new followers and include a link to a promotion.

What does all of this mean? My hope is that all brands – not just restaurant brands – do a better job of leveraging Twitter to drive mindshare and customer interactions.  I also look forward to seeing more casual and fine dining establishments doing a better job of interacting with me as consumer.  If restaurant brands are not understanding how to leverage a mainstream tool like Twitter, how can they possibly keep up with the changing environment with new tools like Foursquare and other location-based services?

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CORRECTION (1/7/10)Wendy’s is not failing on Twitter.  I just ‘found’ the wrong Wendy’s Twitter account when I doing my research.  Their ‘real’ Twitter account is @TheRealWendys and for some reason, they also tweet under @UrBaconMeCrazy.  And they actually have a very cool Wendy’s Realtime social media portal which provides videos, pictures, cool facts and other fun stuff along with links to all of their social media properties.

2 thoughts on “Twitter in the Restaurant Industry

  1. I just read this article and must say that Wendy’s was the first restaurant to really surprise me with their engagement. I checked in on foursquare and within the hour saw that they were not only following me but also replied to a comment I made about the food. They got my attention and so I checked there twitter profile and learned about a new product that I added as a to-do on foursquare. Very effective marketing I must say!

  2. Pingback: Twitter: A new way to connect « Social Media in the Music Industry

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