Taco Bell bumped McDonald’s out of the No. 1 spot in the first-quarter Restaurant Social Media Index from DigitalCoCo.

This marks the first time Taco Bell has led the Top 10 ranking. McDonald’s came in at No. 2; Wendy’s, No. 3; Starbucks, No. 4; and Buffalo Wild Wings, No. 5.

McDonald’s held the top spot in the fourth quarter of 2012 after Starbucks had held the position for six quarters, said DigitalCoCo founder and chief executive Paul Barron.


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“Taco Bell has had some aggressive growth across the three platforms that we measure, which are sentiment, engagement and influence,” Barron told Nation’s Restaurant News.

“We get the feeling that the brands at the top are jockeying with programs that ramp up engagement, or maybe they are doing something on an offer that are causing guests to interact more, or their sentiment is greater because of a new menu item that gets a lot of social fluff,” he said.

Longtime RSMI star Starbucks’ decline in the rankings was more about sentiment than anything, Barron said. “It’s hard to tell if it’s because Starbucks hasn’t done anything cool or new to pump up sentiment around the brand, or are we getting a little bit of fatigue in the brand? We don’t know,” he said.

Apps, payment options drive mobile results

The RSMI also tracks and ranks brands based on mobile engagement. The index currently only takes into account social transactions via mobile devices, Barron said, noting that Red Mango, Einstein Bros. and Panera Bread have found success in that area.

“All these [brands in this category] have really embraced app development in mobile,” he said. “Because of that, we believe the consumer audience that they are reaching out to has a tendency to engage with those brands a little more frequently [than with others], and also in ways that are a little more ‘sticky.’”

For instance, Dunkin’ Donuts has sponsored contests; Buffalo Wild Wings added some gaming aspects; and Panera offered marketing programs around product awareness and sourcing, Barron said.

Mobile payment has also presented opportunities for brands. “Sweetgreen has done some interesting things with mobile payment, and we believe that’s caused these guys to get a lot more mobile engagement,” Barron said.

Sweetgreen’s mobile payment option, which is connected to a credit card account, is a combination of a loyalty program and a payment program, “much like you see with Starbucks,” Barron said.

 

Chipotle leads in location-based actions

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The RSMI added location-based numbers to the index because brands are increasingly asking customers to let them know they are in their restaurants, Barron said.

Chipotle led the pack in the first Top 10 rankings of location-based brands, Barron said.

“What we are finding is that the Chipotle customer has a bit higher propensity for location-based actions. I don’t know that it is the brand as much as it is the demographic they are serving,” he said.

Other brands with demographic bases similar to Chipotle’s also performed well in location-based actions, Barron said, including Subway, No. 2; Wendy’s, No. 3; Starbucks, No. 4; and Tijuana Flats, No. 5. Taco Bell, Buffalo Wild Wings, Panera Bread, Raising Cane’s and Jimmy John’s rounded out the top 10, in descending order.

Those brand’s demographics appear to use mobile heavily and “seem more open with their digital lives,” Barron said. “They’re more open about saying they are in a restaurant and posting on Facebook or Instagram.”

The push to draw in location-based actions has been growing.

“A lot of brands have been so caught up in ‘I’ve got so much to say,’ rather than allowing the customer to jump into the conversation and talk more about being at the location. That’s really huge,” he said. “It puts a butt in a seat.”
 
“What we are seeing is some decline in intended check-ins, meaning walking into a store, opening up Foursquare and checking in and saying, ‘I’m here at Panera.’ That’s versus me going into a store and taking a photo on Instagram and saying, ‘I had a great lunch at Panera.’

“It’s still location-based action, but the consumer is doing it on a more passive approach than an intended check-in,” he added.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless