Trying to calculate a straight return on investment for social media based on traffic and sales following a Facebook or Twitter campaign misses the point and could neglect meaningful measurement of engagement metrics, restaurant marketers said.
Jersey Mike’s Subs and Hard Rock Café, two brands that recently grew their bases of social media followers and, more importantly, increased engagement with them, discussed results from recent social media campaigns with Nation’s Restaurant News.
A very social summer for Jersey Mike’s
Jersey Mike’s grew its number of Facebook likes 30 percent over this past summer, mostly on the strength of a “Christmas in July” fundraiser that raised more than $200,000 for the nonprofit organization Wreaths Across America. The charity funds an annual wreath-laying ceremony on the graves of American soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
More importantly for Jersey Mike’s was that the number of people posting about and replying to the brand on Facebook more than quadrupled during the height of its fundraising campaign, said chief marketing officer Rich Hope.
Social media and return on investment remain “incredibly difficult” to gauge, Hope said, because the positive same-store sales Jersey Mike’s has recorded over the past 16 quarters began before the brand got deeply involved in social media. “The investment is low, so that’s one good thing about the ROI on social, but to measure exactly what it returns, I can only guess that it’s high,” he said. “We’ll post a photo of a sub in the morning, and we see comments that people are going out to buy it that day, so it’s more anecdotal than trackable.”
In the second quarter, Jersey Mike’s was ranked No. 100 in the Restaurant Social Media Index, produced by Nation’s Restaurant News and DigitalCoCo.
For Jersey Mike’s, which has more than 500 restaurants in the United States, the most important number to grow was not the total of Facebook likes, but rather the number of “people talking about this brand,” which Facebook calculates by tabulating all the likes, comments and shares a brand receives for a short period of time. The 75,000 total likes the brand had at the time of the campaigns were nowhere near the numbers for a rival like Subway, Hope said, but the 10,000 people talking about the brand was Jersey Mike’s highest percentage for the year.
“Some brands try to get as many likes as possible, and they ‘buy’ them by offering a freebie,” Hope said. “There are reasons to go that route, because your name pops up on people’s news feeds, but we really try to get engagement. … We’re trying to get more people talking about us and only have people come on board if they truly like us.”
The fundraising campaign proved to be Jersey Mike’s most successful social-media initiative.
“We truly believe in cause marketing,” Hope said. “We celebrated military heroes on the page, which hit people where they live. Brands try to have stunts to engage people in some way, but when we try things that depart from the true culture of our brand, it doesn’t work well. But Wreaths Across America fits with our culture.”
For the rest of the summer, Jersey Mike’s celebrated its past, posting iconic images or Jersey Mike’s ads from each decade from the 1950s to the 1990s. The “Throwback Summer” campaign had a peak engagement of about 5,000 people talking about the brand, but did not really approach the success of the Wreaths Across America tie-in.
“Both campaigns worked well, but Wreaths Across America had more substance and therefore better engagement,” Hope said. “That’s the trick. Our best engagement comes from posting a photo of our product or talking about our giving culture.”
Hard Rock embraces the madness
Similarly for Hard Rock Café, a formula that accurately measures social-media ROI can be elusive as platforms like Facebook and Twitter keep evolving, said Kim Matlock, senior director of marketing and customer relationship management. She and her team keep a close eye on how much Facebook’s “people talking about” metric grows and the volume of tweets for a given period of time. Improving those levels of engagement is a worthwhile goal, even if they cannot link it directly to sales, she said.
“Because our customers enjoy our brand as much as they do, they come back to the brand and we stay top-of-mind in their heads,” Matlock said. “That’s probably the best metric, because we don’t do a lot of promotions with discounts to bring people in.”
A recent, clear-cut result of Hard Rock’s social-media strategy, however, was the 138-unit brand’s win in the inaugural Social Madness competition put on by the Business Journal network. In mid-September, Hard Rock was crowned the medium-size business winner, sharing honors with small-company winner One Louder and large-company victor Target. Hard Rock beat other medium-size companies by growing its total count of Facebook likes and Twitter followers, as well as improving engagement metrics during the 15 weeks of the competition.
Hard Rock, which has more than 2.7 million Facebook likes and more than 215,000 Twitter followers, was the No. 16 brand ranked in the Restaurant Social Media Index in the second quarter.
Matlock and digital-marketing manager Sebastian Quinn said photos on Hard Rock’s timeline on Facebook did the most to spur the engagement that helped the brand advance through several rounds of Social Madness voting. Whether it was Hard Rock posting its professional photography of food, restaurants or merchandise, or fans uploading their own pictures taken with Instagram and other photo-sharing platforms, photos got people talking about Hard Rock.
“We really work on conversations that mix things up with the audience, and some good posts went really viral,” Matlock said. “Pictures with Slash and Ozzy Osbourne in our cafes, or old-school photos of stars hanging out at a Hard Rock in their ’80s attire, really got some organic growth for our Facebook page.”
Without using discount codes or special keys at a POS system, Hard Rock cannot make a direct correlation to sales, but “we have proof in the photos,” Matlock added. “People are posting their photos of their experiences in our cafes, and you can tell where they’ve been if they post pictures of their food, or T-shirts, or vacation.”
Before Hard Rock was established on Instagram, Quinn said, “we started to seed an account with our pictures and found that there were already tens of thousands of photos that people had tagged with us.”
“There’s your evidence,” Matlock said. “It’s kind of a reverse ROI.”