Restaurant operators are beginning to get a grip on the difficult measure of return on investment in social media, said participants of the Show Me the Money: Measuring Your Social Media Success panel at MUFSO.
During the panel, restaurant industry experts outlined their methods for measuring social media, from Yelp dashboards to Facebook promotions.
Paul Barron, founder and chief executive of DigitalCoCo and the panel moderator, said Millennials, those consumers born between 1980 and 2000, are active users of social media, frequently checking in or posting about restaurant visits. He said fast-casual consumers are heavy users of social media, and even Baby Boomers are active in posting about fine dining. Many of their behaviors are tracked on the Restaurant Social Media Index, which is produced by DigitalCoCo and presented by Nation’s Restaurant News.
Other panelists included: Stacey Kane, vice president of marketing at California Tortilla; Melissa Simpson, manager of social media for Firehouse of America; Dana D’Ascenzo, marketing manager of Rita’s Franchise Co.; and Dan Kim, founder and chief concept officer for Red Mango USA.
“When you look at social media,” Kim of Red Mango said. “You are basically looking at a variety of channels, whether it is Facebook or Twitter. But what’s key is how much money you are actually spending in each of those channels to deliver or generate a specific response.”
Two examples for measurement used by Red Mango, he said, are the company’s own Club Mango loyalty program, in use since 2007, and Yelp, the social review platform. Red Mango has found loyalty club members who have a Facebook page spend more with the brand, so the company has promoted offers via Facebook and measured results.
The 210-unit Red Mango this year started using Yelp. “We actually consider Yelp a very popular social media tool,” Kim said, “because it’s an environment where people actually go and talk about your brand over and over again. Those that do are very passionate about your brand.”
To determine return on investment on Yelp, Red Mango participated in its business program, where the brand pays a negotiated price per location per month to consolidate all locations into one dashboard and monitor positive and negative key words.
Extending a brand’s reach
Kane said the 35-unit California Tortilla recently conducted an August promotion with the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, employing 20,000 network-donated blue foam shark-fin hats, which were given out with the purchase of a fish taco, and 100 T-shirts.
California Tortilla also tied in social media around Shark Week, Kane said. In-store marketing materials cost about $3,000, she said, and the company threw a party at the Discovery Channel for about $4,000. An additional Twitter campaign, under the #ChompieAttack hashtag, awarded free food for 20 office workers.
Promotion measurements include traffic — “Did it put butts in seats?” Kane asked — as well as any changes in average check and ease of use by the unit crew, Kane said. For the Shark Week promotion, which cost about $8,000 in total, traffic rose 12 percent over a base period (three prior weeks and the year before) and rose 18 percent in a day-vs.-day comparison. The average ticket stayed flat, she said, because there was not discounting.
California Tortilla saw a 203-percent increase in daily average Facebook reach, and hundreds of pictures were posted to the Facebook page and nearly triple the mentions on Twitter, Kane said. “We don’t have a huge media budget,” she noted, “so it would be pretty difficult for us to buy that kind of coverage with radio, television or any other sort of digital [media].”
On Oct. 26, in the District of Columbia area, the company is again partnering with Discovery Channel for the launch of the new “Gold Rush” season and giving out yellow plastic miners’ hats.
Encouraging customer evangelism
Listening to customer conversations can eventually impact a concept’s image and sales, Simpson of Firehouse Subs said.
“Through Twitter, we identified a blogger in Las Vegas who had a poor experience at the restaurant out there. Not only did he have one poor experience, he had four, and he wrote about it on his blog,” she said. “We knew we had to remedy that quickly.”
The company flew co-founder Robin Sorensen to Las Vegas to meet with the blogger, toured the restaurant and prepared food with him.
“It was a unique experience as a direct result of what he posted on Twitter,” Simpson said. “The great thing about Twitter is you can go from customer acquisition to customer retention to customer evangelism.” She said that happened with blogger, who is now a “Firehouse fanatic.”
The company also invites influential local bloggers and Twitter users in various markets to a dinner at a Firehouse unit with the concept’s founders, Simpson said. The company can correlate lifts in sales to the dinners, she added. “Personal recommendations are one of the best ways to advertise your brand,” she said. “That will last forever.” A video contest for a new sandwich introduction in July was linked to a five-percentage-point lift in consumer sentiment ratings for the month.
D’Ascenzo of Rita’s Italian Ice said the brand’s heaviest-use market is among affluent young women who are technologically savvy, making social media platforms important.
She said Rita’s worked with the gum brand Bubblicious for an online sweepstakes to make customers aware of the new flavor.
The promotion required participants to “like” Rita’s Facebook page to enter the sweepstakes, which provided awards at every additional 1,000 Facebook fans. The Bubblicious effort gained Rita’s 35,000 new likes of its Facebook page and nearly 20,000 new birthday-club subscriptions, D’Ascenzo said.
She said the company ended up spending about 40 cents per new fan.
“Overall, we found that our guests really didn’t like the Bubblicious flavor,” D’Ascenzo conceded, “but we did find out that they enjoyed being engaged on our Facebook page. And we considered this a success.”