During the month of June, HuHot Mongolian Grill tapped into a new social media obsession by inviting Facebook fans to participate in a “Grill Meal” contest on Pinterest.

The HuHot franchise is among the first pioneers to do this in the restaurant industry. During the contest, its followers increased from 119 to 169. That’s a 30 percent increase in a month’s time and can be attributed to HuHot leading the Mongolian Grill community on Pinterest.

Pinterest is a social bookmarking site that allows users to collect and “pin” photos to theme-based boards such as events, interests, and hobbies. It has become extremely popular since its launch in 2010 and is now the third largest social network in the United States, only behind Facebook and Twitter.

Many restaurants are experimenting with it as a marketing tool to drive brand awareness. However, because Pinterest focuses on lifestyle and not advertising, marketers have come up with innovative strategies to get their audience involved. One very popular and successful strategy is Pinterest contests.

To enter HuHot’s contest, consumers “pinned” a photo of their grill meal with the hashtag “#HuHot” and the ingredients in the description.

The contest was promoted primarily through online outlets, including the HuHot website and Twitter, but the main focus was on Facebook.

Participants were encouraged to be original and creative when creating their grill meal recipe. One first place winner received a $100 gift card to HuHot, and four runners-up received $25 gift cards. Winners were announced on the HuHot Facebook page on July 2nd.

Overall the contest was a success. “It was a different way to engage with fans on Facebook and increased the number of followers on HuHot’s Pinterest boards,” says Stasia Wheaton, who’s currently heading up social media for the brand. “Pinterest is a great tool to illustrate the HuHot image. We will continue to use it in innovative ways to build brand awareness and drive traffic into our restaurants.”

Erica Martin from Missouri submitted the winning Pin. She described her creation as “My #HuHot favorite, Tof & Turf! Complete with tofu AND beef, green cabbage, bean sprouts, green peppers, and topped with peanuts. Featuring a lot of ginger broth (3 ladles) and sweet chili sauce (another 3 ladles), and a bit of lemon/lime (1 ladle each). Yum! @HuHot Mongolian.”

Marketing & Promotions, News, HuHot Mongolian Grill