Following up on a third-quarter study of Facebook engagement for the restaurant industry, social-media software and consulting firm Expion identified The Cheesecake Factory, Taco Bell and Texas Roadhouse as among foodservice’s most consistent promoters on Facebook.
Mike Heffring, chief strategy officer of Raleigh, N.C.-based Expion, said those brands showed a better understanding of “smart social” practices, favoring quality over quantity in their posting and typically earning a more reliable level of fan actions, including likes, comments and shares.
“To get better social integration, making social success repeatable and finding linkages to other marketing goals, start with the frequency issue,” Heffring said. “If you post a lot, you could have success, but it’s harder to repeat it.”
Expion also noted several trends from some brands whose fan engagement varied much more from post to post, like Red Mango, Chick-fil-A and Red Lobster.
To quantify each chain’s level of consistency in fan engagement, Expion calculated an efficiency quotient that indicated more consistency if it fell below 1 and less if it rose higher than 1. The figure was derived by dividing each chain’s standard deviation of fan actions for all posts in the third quarter by the average number of actions per post.
The consistency of Cheesecake
The Cheesecake Factory’s consistent efficiency was reflected in a quotient of 0.60, resulting from its standard deviation of 11,127 fan actions divided by a per-post fan action average of 18,673.
Heffring noted that the chain’s 94 posts had a unifying theme of capturing desserts in glossy food shots. The Cheesecake Factory varied posts, however, by promoting events like National Cheesecake Day or “any slice half-price” days, as well as cross-promotional posts. In addition, several communications from the brand touted desserts that could leverage fan bases from its suppliers, such as the Oreo Dream Extreme Cheesecake or Hershey’s Chocolate Bar Cheesecake.
“Once you find something that works, you naturally want to continue it, but you have to freshen it up and provide a mix of things,” Heffring said. “Cheesecake Factory had a nice mix, mostly built around their core stuff. But if you’re going to do 94 posts in a quarter, you can’t do 94 pictures of cheesecake.”
Taco Bell’s 0.84 quotient came from a standard deviation of 20,793 fan actions divided by a per-post fan action average of 24,577. Heffring noted that, like Cheesecake Factory, Taco Bell was adept at using food photography and informal captions that encouraged fans to like and share posts about its products.
“How does social media help you talk about your core items in interesting ways?” Heffring said. “It’s through pictures, visuals and the type of language you use. It’s all about talking about your food in a conversational way.”
Texas Roadhouse proved to be a quality-over-quantity promoter on Facebook, producing a quotient of 0.91 in only 24 posts during the third quarter. Its average fan actions per post of 11,111 significantly trailed Cheesecake’s and Taco Bell’s, but Texas Roadhouse’s standard deviation of 10,066 was the lowest of the trio of chains that Expion called out.
The steakhouse chain’s two most popular posts did not involve food but rather a cause. One asked fans to share the post in honor of victims and heroes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the anniversary of 9/11. Another asked people to share a post “in support of our troops,” promoting the chain’s Motorcycle Ride & Raffle event to benefit the Homes for Our Troops charity.
Lessons learned from others
A few chains like Red Mango, Chick-fil-A and Red Lobster proved to be less consistent, for different reasons.
While Red Mango’s quotient of 1.48, driven by a standard deviation of 4,635 fan actions over 3,127 average fan actions per post, indicates that the frozen-yogurt brand is not as efficient as other chains on Facebook, Heffring argued that this high of a quotient is not particularly bad for a young, emerging brand. Often, these fresh-faced companies take a highly promotional, prolific approach to Facebook, and Red Mango’s 212 posts during the third quarter put it among the industry’s most-frequent posters.
“On a pure impression standpoint, that kind of frequency gets you a lot of chances, if not necessarily fan engagement,” Heffring said. “It’s not bad to be this inefficient if their goal is reach, and they have to fight all the fast-casual incumbents out there.”
Over time, Red Mango and other growing chains can move toward “smart social” by analyzing what kinds of Facebook posts get the most engagement and recalibrating their posting strategy toward that.
“By making more of what you do look like your good outliers, the more you get reach and virality,” Heffring said.
In the third quarter, however, that likely was not a strategy Chick-fil-A was looking for or would hope to continue in the future. The brand’s inefficient quotient of 2.05 arose from its very high standard deviation of 45,880 fan actions for the quarter, which stemmed from tens of thousands of people responding — positively and negatively — to a group of posts in July related to Chick-fil-A’s controversy surrounding same-sex marriage.
“Chick-fil-A’s outliers were all public-relations issues, not product issues,” Heffring said.
Of the six brands Expion broke out for this follow-up study, Chick-fil-A was the only brand to record any Facebook posts to register more than 100,000 total comments, likes and shares — which it did three separate times. Its July 19 statement where it said it would “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” garnered nearly 312,000 fan actions alone, including more than 242,000 likes, more than 52,000 comments and more than 16,500 shares.
Even posts unrelated to the controversy, like an Aug. 6 picture ofnuggets with a caption “We do shindigs” to promote the brand’s catering operation, drew thousands of likes and comments from people still keen on fighting the culture war, trading comments like “You also do freedom of speech … and defend truths of the Bible” with “They do shindigs? They also do HATE.”
Expion pointed out Red Lobster’s performance because it had a nearly identical number of posts as Cheesecake Factory, 93 in the third quarter to Cheesecake’s 94, but had a much higher standard deviation of 17,841 fan actions and thus a higher quotient of 1.73.
Red Lobster had five highly engaging posts in the quarter that earned more than 45,000 fan actions apiece, but there was a long tail of posts eliciting far fewer likes, comments and shares, creating a relatively high standard deviation of 17,841 fan actions. Its most popular posts promoted offers like Endless Shrimp or the brand’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits, doing so in a conversational manner.