Cracker Barrel Old Country Store led the fourth quarter Restaurant Social Media Index rankings for growth in Twitter followers with initiatives that tapped into the brand’s country music roots.
The Lebanon, Tenn.-based chain’s RSMI score for growth on Twitter was 85.5 percent. In comparison, No. 2 Mimi’s Café had growth of 64.7 percent.
Most restaurant brands use Twitter to communicate special offers, promote menu items or reinforce brand awareness to lure customers in during specific dayparts.
However, Cracker Barrel has successfully found ways to spark a conversation among guests, which promotes deeper engagement, said Paul Barron, founder of digital brand agency Digital CoCo, which is a partner with Nation’s Restaurant News in the Restaurant Social Media Index. Cracker Barrel is not a client of DigitalCoCo.
Many brands make the mistake of using Twitter only as an advertising vehicle, he said, informing guests about new menu items or the opening of new locations. That may be important information to share, but it is a “closed loop,” or information that is less likely to be passed on by followers.
Cracker Barrel, on the other hand, tweeted strong conversation starters.
Jordan Schneider, Cracker Barrel’s director of loyalty, said the chain’s social marketing efforts began in July 2011 “in order to engage in discussions with our guests about what they feel connects them to our brand.”
Focusing on themes of “connection, relaxation and family,” the Twitter program followed the launch of a newly redeveloped website last June, and an integrated marketing program that has included promotion of music, digital gift card sales and online and in-store events.
A cornerstone of Cracker Barrel’s Twitter program has focused on country music fans.
Since Cracker Barrel’s in-restaurant stores sell CDs, the chain routinely promotes country and bluegrass artists, which also taps the brand into the fan followings of each performer.
Tweets during the quarter referenced Dailey & Vincent, Jason M. Carroll and Wynonna Judd.
Promotions included tweets about a visit from the Oak Ridge Boys for the 30th anniversary of their song “Elvira” at a Cracker Barrel unit in Texas in October. The group’s CD “It’s Only Natural” debuted exclusively at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations.
Related tweets followed the album’s ranking on the country music charts, and followers could hear samples of tracks and watch videos on You Tube — all content that was passed on with the Cracker Barrel hashtag by country music fans.
“The campaign helped to broaden our social media reach and attract more followers,” said Schneider.
Those fans acted as what Barron calls “super influencers,” or followers that introduce a brand to an audience they may never otherwise reach.
Followers of those super influencers might start following Cracker Barrel on Twitter for music related tweets, for example.
“It’s word of mouth, but it’s really about getting a conversation moving and then there’s a snowball effect,” Barron said. “You’re literally carrying your ad across a spectrum of influencers.”
The holidays also provided an opportunity for Cracker Barrel to ramp up guest engagement efforts, with holiday sweepstakes, in-store events and blogger promotions. At the same time, the chain also ran national media campaigns in traditional offline channels, like TV and radio, said Schneider.
Cracker Barrel offered a contest to win a Halloween decorating kit in October and a holiday gift basket in December. It also reminded followers to order holiday hams, and gave ideas for stocking stuffers and other gifts.
And, like many restaurant chains, Cracker Barrel uses Twitter to address customer praise and complaints directly.
“They realized Twitter is a great customer service tool,” Barron said. “It gives them immediate feedback.”