For the second consecutive week, a medium-size regional chain had the largest growth in its NRN Social 200 index score thanks to a cause-marketing focus.

NRN Social 200: Food pictures work for top restaurants
NRN Social 200: Value offers boost restaurants in August
The NRN Social 200 index

Bravo! Cucina Italiana, owned by Columbus, Ohio-based Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, brought about the largest weekly gain during the third week of September by asking Facebook fans to interact with the brand to raise money to fight childhood hunger with Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. Bob Evans Farms also raised its index score last week with some philanthropy-related videos on its YouTube page.

Otherwise, Red Lobster and Chick-fil-A, two of the biggest restaurant chains in the United States in terms of sales and social-media presence, moved the needle on their social engagement enough to get double-digit gains off high base scores. In their case, slick food shots of craveable items earned the most likes and shares on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

Gift card giveaways remained popular as well, leading to spikes in Facebook interactions for Bob Evans and Culver’s, which also encouraged participation with a poll of fans’ favorite chicken sandwich and earned extra likes for a few food shots.

1. Bravo! Cucina Italiana
Weekly percent change: +22.1%
Index score: 6.78

As was the case the week before with Togo’s Sandwiches, a cause-marketing post in support of Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry drove the highest weekly gain in social-media engagement, this time for Bravo! Cucina Italiana. The Italian dinnerhouse chain earned 550 likes and 155 shares for its Facebook pledge to donate $1 to the charity for every new like its brand page received. The post also advertised a Dine Out promotion for $5 off a future visit for a $5 donation to No Kid Hungry. A follow-up post, asking fans to share the post so that Bravo could donate $1 for every new like friends of friends gave to the brand, also received more than 200 likes and more than 175 shares. Bravo’s non-charity-related posts typically received fewer than 100 likes.

2. Chick-fil-A
Weekly percent change: +19.9%
Index score: 46.02

Quick-service chain Chick-fil-A ran a special “Breakfast on Us” giveaway Sept. 9-14, wrapping up the morning the measurement period for this Social 200 recap started. While no content in Facebook or Twitter dealt with that specific promotion during the measurement period, Chick-fil-A did keep its social chatter going around its breakfast program with matching tweets and Facebook posts carrying the “#ChickenforBreakfast” hash tag, including a Sept. 20 picture of a breakfast sandwich on Facebook that garnered more than 15,700 likes, more than 600 comments and more than 400 shares. That chain also had another highly engaging post, in which it shared a picture from the “Eat Mor Chikin Cowz” page that it also runs. The picture of a “Ryan Gosling Cow” earned more than 10,750 likes, more than 250 shares and more than 130 comments.

Red Lobster, Bob Evans and Culver's

(Continued from page 1)

3. Red Lobster
Weekly percent change: +16.8%
Index score: 50.57

Casual-dining brand Red Lobster brought about a double-digit gain on an already high Social 200 index score on the strength of its food shots that promote its popular Endless Shrimp promotion. During the third week of September, Red Lobster scored three Facebook pictures that earned more than 20,000 likes each, including a photo of its Shrimp Linguini Alfredo that garnered more than 113,750 likes, more than 5,100 shares and more than 1,900 comments. Pictures of the Lobster and Shrimp Quesadilla and the Lobster Grilled Cheese got about 22,000 likes each, as well. Red Lobster matches its tweets to reflect its Facebook content, and Twitter followers favorited and retweeted the food shots several hundred times.

4. Bob Evans
Weekly percent change: +16.7%
Index score: 15.92

Recently, Bob Evans has been celebrating the 60th anniversary of its sausages being sold in grocery stores and other retail settings, and the Facebook posts highlighting that milestone had performed well compared with the family-dining chain’s typical social content. However, a related post that also touted a 60th anniversary giveaway — including a grand prize of a $1,000 gift card — received the most attention, including nearly 2,000 likes and nearly 200 shares. Bob Evans also derives 32 percent of its Social 200 index score from the YouTube component, and during the third week in September, the chain posted two videos that explained its “BE Kind” philosophy of community fundraising and cause marketing.

5. Culver’s
Weekly percent change: +16.5%
Index score: 22.37

Quick-service chain Culver’s brought about a double-digit weekly gain in its Social 200 score with a Facebook campaign centered around its Crispy or Grilled Chicken Sandwiches, as well as a few unrelated posts that Culver’s interspersed successfully. In the “Crispy or Grilled” poll contest, fans were asked to vote for their preferred chicken sandwich via a special link, and they received a coupon for voting as well as a chance for the grand prize, a $250 Culver’s gift card. Whenever restaurant brands ask for this kind of voting, it usually makes for a lively comments section and encourages Facebook sharing, as Culver’s proved again the third week of September. The brand also received more than a thousand likes for other random posts, such as the announcement that it will open soon in Naples, Fla., and a professional food shot of its ButterBurger.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN