Recent controversies on the Facebook pages of Buffalo Wild Wings and Denny’s showed that, even if restaurant brands do not pick sides in heated political arguments, they may not benefit from staying silent either.
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Gun control and the Second Amendment were launched back into the national conversation after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14. With advocates for and against gun control primed for arguments on social media, including and especially Facebook, the debate quickly spread to brand pages belonging to restaurants like Denny’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Those two chains got caught in a storm when corporate policies surrounding firearms — one restricting concealed weapons in restaurants and one allowing only police offers to carry firearms in restaurants — suddenly were thrust into the spotlight.
At Denny’s, the brand addressed head on the consumer and customer concerns about a unit’s manager asking an armed plainclothes officer carrying a weapon. The brand saw positive social media reactions. At Buffalo Wild Wings, the brand chose not to address on Facebook its in-restaurant gun policy that had caught heat following a news report. The chain is still seeing negative social media metrics.
Gary Stibel, founder and chief executive of Norwalk, Conn.-based New England Consulting Group noted that the difference in public reaction to Buffalo Wild Wings’ and Denny’s separate situations shows the importance of being proactive and transparent.
“You can’t wait for something to happen,” he said, “and while there are no iron-clad rules, you’re usually best off by doing something, doing it quickly and doing it openly. These things have lives of their own.”
Data from social-media analytics firm TrackingSocial confirms that increased discussions related to gun control significantly affected social media engagement metrics for Denny’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. TrackingSocial partners with Nation’s Restaurant News in producing the NRN Social 200, an index that explores the engagement level and relationship between the largest restaurant brands and their social media audiences on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
TrackingSocial found that while engagement spiked at the outset of controversy for both chains, Buffalo Wild Wings continues to experience negative effects on its growth in Facebook fans, while Denny’s maintained better control over that metric.