Opinions will always differ whether citizen journalism is helpful or harmful for the flow of information. In the case of restaurants, it often concerns an inescapable reality: Everybody's a critic. People take to review sites, social media platforms and amplify their voice among their circle of influence, however sizable or insignificant that might be. The result is that restaurants are always one digital reaction away—justified or not—from gaining or losing a customer.
But there’s no reason to see the glass as half empty all the time. The same technology spreading this word-of-mouth culture also enables brands and marketers to leverage consumer insights to improve, course correct, and discover competitive differentiators that weren’t so clear before. And all without pencils and comment cards.
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Social allows restaurants to tap into consumer trends and discover what needs to be changed, and what current brand qualities should be emphasized. It’s unbridled opportunity to drive not just engagement, but authentic interactions. Just think Popeyes. The chicken chain launched a sandwich and used Twitter to explode its brand awareness. One calculated jab at Chick-fil-A led to a firestorm of commentary. And it was due, again, to the citizen-journalism nature of today’s internet—people didn’t just talk about the product, they had to try it and let everyone know what they thought. Because on Twitter we’re all important, to our own people, in our own minds. Restaurants can use that notion to their advantage.
According to analytics platform NetBase, 2018 social network ad revenues were more than $23 billion in 2018—double that of 2015. For perspective, just over a decade ago, the arena barely existed. Facebook didn’t launch its first ad until 2005. LinkedIn was a year later. Twitter introduced promoted tweets and accounts in 2010. Mobile ads didn’t arrive at Facebook until 2012, the same year Pinterest unveiled business accounts. LinkedIn added mobile adds in 2013 and Instagram created sponsored photos and videos. Snapchat joined the ad conversation in 2014.
In sum, this is really still an infant-stage realm, and it’s changing by the minute as platforms like Facebook adjust algorithms to limit organic reach and push brands into the pay-for-impression world. And yet, per NetBase, 60 percent of people said they no longer trust social media companies. This means being authentic, personal, and transparent has never been more critical.
It’s an interesting chance for restaurants. People feel connected with brands they’re familiar with and can count on, and few industries are as omni-present as the foodservice universe, especially the fast-food side, where some chains have stood for a century.
All that said, what kind of social interactions drive authentic engagement and brand passion, and how can restaurants capitalize on these experiences to drive more guest traffic? That’s the question.
NetBase broke down some data to see which restaurants generated the most buzz, and what lessons can be gleaned.
Here’s the top 10. Factors that went into “social rank” included mention volume, awareness (people talking about the brand), reach (the conversations being put out on their own channels), net sentiment, and brand passion.