Last week’s activity on the NRN Social 200 index showed that whether restaurants have active social media profiles or are trying to increase engagement from slower starting points, the key is creating content true to their brands’ core identities.

Brands go beyond 'dads, grads' in June
The NRN Social 200 index
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During the first week of July, Champps Americana and Max & Erma’s made the largest gains in NRN’s Social 200 index, which measures brands’ engagement with consumers across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The casual-dining brands started from very small index scores but were able to increase them incrementally through contests that raffled off freebies and gift cards.

By contrast, regional chains LaRosa’s Pizzeria and Firehouse Subs had larger scores upon which to build, and Facebook posts that stayed true to their respective positioning as a Cincinnati institution and a brand built by firemen brought about significant increases across several platforms.

1. Champps Americana
Weekly percent change: +54.0%
Index score: 4.41

The casual-dining chain’s Facebook activity accounts for the entirety of its index value of 4.41, which is small but nonetheless rose more than 50 percent in the past week. Champps’ most engaging content for the period was a July 2 post on its Facebook page advertising its “Win Champps for a Year” contest, which requires people to like the brand’s page before they are eligible for different prizes. More than 160 people liked that message, compared with Champps’ previous posts for the month, which only received a few dozen likes at most.

2. Max & Erma’s
Weekly percent change: +45.0%
Index score: 2.45

With an index score in the low single digits, casual-dining chain Max & Erma’s often resides near the bottom of the NRN Social 200, but recent attempts to more directly engage fans on Facebook and Twitter have shown the ability to generate some interest. Its most-liked post of the last week was a message to a winner of the chain’s weekly contest calling for user-generated photos to be used in its Facebook timeline. Another post, promoting Free Cookies Wednesday, garnered the most shares and comments, though many of those had to do with people asking for the White Chocolate Macadamia Cookie to return to the menu.

3. LaRosa’s Pizzeria
Weekly percent change: +36.7%
Index score: 10.45

For Cincinnati-based LaRosa’s Pizzeria, baseball appears to be more than a favorite pastime; it’s also the key to building appealing Facebook content for its fans. The brand has more than 60 units in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana centered around Greater Cincinnati, which makes promotional tie-ins with the Reds one of LaRosa’s go-to marketing tactics. Currently, the brand offers a free small pizza in exchange for a ticket to any Reds game in which the pitching staff strikes out at least 11 opposing batters. Yet LaRosa’s biggest Facebook engagement came after Homer Bailey’s no-hitter for the Reds on July 2. Two separate posts of the same Reds-related photo racked up combined totals of more than 6,200 likes, 1,150 shares and 85 comments.

4. Firehouse Subs
Weekly percent change: +20.8%
Index score: 21.06

Firehouse Subs’ index score gets greater contributions from the sandwich chain’s Twitter and YouTube activity, though Facebook does account for nearly half of its total score. The brand has begun to tease this month’s return of the King’s Hawaiian Pulled Pork Sandwich, and a special Facebook contest to promote the sandwich begins Thursday. But fans showed the most engagement not for Firehouse’s sandwiches but for the brand’s support of firefighters, which has been part of the chain’s identity since firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen founded the brand. When a wildfire in Yarnell Hill, Ariz., killed 19 firefighters on June 30, Firehouse’s Facebook post grieving for the first responders received an outpouring of support and sympathy in the form of nearly 10,600 likes, 1,000 shares and 550 comments.

5. Village Inn
Weekly percent change: +20.1%
Index score: 4.82

With no Twitter or YouTube presence, the family-dining chain must engage its Facebook fans to build upon its NRN Social 200 index score, and Village Inn demonstrated a simple question’s potential to accomplish that last week. The two Facebook posts that dramatically increased the brand’s engagement dealt with patriotic themes for the Fourth of July, including a simple graphic of a United States map with the question, “How many of our nation’s states have you live in or visited?” Nearly 500 people answered the question, and one winner was randomly drawn to receive a free pie. Another picture of a waving American flag received 250 likes and 33 shares, far more than Village Inn’s average posts.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN