Understanding new social media platforms and how they integrate with established services like Facebook are top of mind for brand marketers attending the Expion Smart Social 2013 conference this week in Raleigh, N.C.
Raleigh-based Expion is a social media software and strategy firm that consults with brands across several industries, including restaurants.
Like many restaurant brands, 390-unit casual-dining chain Texas Roadhouse has increased its social media efforts and investments to amplify its traditional marketing. Since the brand only advertises in 47 states with local marketing, investing in social media was key to creating a “megaphone effect,” said Tyler Durham, digital marketing specialist for Louisville, Ky.-based parent Texas Roadhouse Inc.
“Texas Roadhouse’s strategy has always been to live off word-of-mouth marketing,” he said. “We know we’re not going to outspend our competitors on ad buys or digital marketing tools, so we look at social as an area where we can own that segment.”
Durham and colleague Tyler Chesser, Texas Roadhouse’s marketing coordinator, spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the brand’s social media challenges and solutions.
What do you hope to learn at this conference?
Durham: Local-store marketing has always been a key component to Texas Roadhouse as a brand. We don’t do any national TV, radio or print, so all of our marketing is really focused at the local level. Coming to this type of conference is about learning how we can use these social tools and strategies to get better at creating those relationships online that form loyal brand advocates and how we can get them sharing the Texas Roadhouse story if they aren’t already.
Chesser: We’re trying to make sense of all the data that’s out there and figure out ways that we can improve our business from it. We want to improve our operations and what we do on a daily basis, because those answers are out there. But we need to find out what people are already saying about our brand and what they want from us.
What keeps you up at night as the social media leads for Texas Roadhouse?
Durham: Certainly you always have those worst-case scenarios in mind, and not responding to guests fast enough is probably one of the things we struggle with the most, because we really only have a couple folks that manage close to 400 pages on Facebook alone. Now we just have a national Twitter presence, but if we were to go down to a similarly local level, how would we train all those locations, and could we use tools like Expion’s to prevent those social media crises that happen in casual dining every day? You’re never going to eliminate those mistakes, so how do you utilize social tools to connect with guests and make it right from the brand’s perspective?
Chesser: The other thing is creating content and having content that’s usable and shareable for our brand. We always like to say we’re not a couponing company, so what kind of content can we share that our guests want to interact with? It’s a challenge, and how do we utilize what our fans are already saying and re-generate it into something useful.
What content have you created or used that has moved the needle for your guests?
Durham: Instagram, like most people at this conference have been saying, is really picking up a lot of steam for us. We have several tools out there that pull Instagram photos that people take within our four walls. So how do we pull in that user-generated content, photos of hand-cut steaks, and republish that at the local level to generate conversation? It’s exciting for us when we publish local content, and people realize that the pictures come from their friends.
In a market segment that’s so competitive like casual dining, how do you stand out? What’s going to make people share your content on Facebook over someone else’s? I think harnessing your users that are already posting content for you — that’s why Instagram’s been so huge for us in the past year. Sharing that for the whole world to see, giving customers recognition and saying thanks has worked really well.
What other challenges are you working on right now?
Durham: Our biggest challenges today are the multitudes of platforms and keeping up with more than 100 social networks. We have to find out which ones we’re going to be passionate about and where we’ll put the time and resources into to really own, because sometimes companies spread themselves too thin across platforms and end up not being effective on any of them.
About 90 percent of what people are saying on our social pages right now is positive, and that really goes back to our operators. If you have great people in the restaurants executing on food quality, service, and the restaurants are clean, what is there to complain about? Maybe 10 percent of comments are negative … and when you see that stuff you just have to make it right.
Do store-level managing partners have a lot of control over Texas Roadhouse’s social media, or do you manage that?
Chesser: Every single restaurant has a dedicated local-store marketer. They’re dedicated to going out in their five-mile radius and connecting with local businesses, schools and churches. It’s their job to know the community and engage with them, and then give us the local content to post for them. If they’re having an event at their restaurant, they know we’ll get it on their local pages and let their fans know digitally.
Durham: We’re piloting about 20 locations now that are managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts solely on their own. … The whole point of social is being connected to people in your community, so we would love to get [to 100-percent local control], but it depends on whether it makes sense in the long term.