The restaurant chains that showed the largest weekly growth in their NRN Social 200 index scores during the week beginning July 27 did so off smaller base scores, but nonetheless exemplified the importance of speaking to audiences in ways that provoke more responses and engagement.

NRN Social 200: Singular sensations lift brands in July
NRN Social 200: Brands build upon summer success
The NRN Social 200

For instance, the week’s top gainer, Charley’s Grilled Subs, told fans, “We just made your Monday,” when posting a professional food shot for its latest limited-time offer, which prompted one person to reply, “Really? I don’t see a coupon.” Two other chains, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Ponderosa Steakhouses, registered their biggest weekly gains in the Social 200 the first week of August by asking the right questions on their Facebook pages.

On the other hand, Church’s Chicken probably received more responses and comments in a negative light than it wanted during the period, but the quick-service brand responded quickly to several complaints in order to quell a few isolated misunderstandings before they became bigger controversies.

1. Charley’s Grilled Subs
Weekly percent change: +21.6%
Index score: 7.70

Columbus, Ohio-based Charley’s scored the week’s largest gain in Social 200 index scores by breaking out of the doldrums to promote its Smokehouse Bacon BBQ sandwich. By the time Charley’s changed its cover photo on Facebook to a food shot of the sandwich and pinned a promotional post to the top of its page on Monday, July 29, five days had gone by without the brand using the social network to post content for its fans. On Twitter, six days had passed before Charley’s posted something about the sandwich, which was a retweet of a news story about the Smokehouse Bacon BBQ’s introduction. The brand also is holding an online contest that allows its fans to vote for their favorite limited-time offer to bring back to the menu, but for the week, Facebook posts advertising the Smokehouse sandwich received the majority of likes, comments and shares.

2. Church’s Chicken
Weekly percent change: +17.4%
Index score: 8.46

Church’s Chicken planned its Facebook and Twitter content during the first week of August around a “Rock the AMAs” contest in partnership with Coca-Cola, which will award a trip for two to Los Angeles to attend the American Music Awards. In the first few days of promoting the contest, those Facebook posts had not engendered as many likes or shares as previous posts of food shots for Church’s signature menu items. The brand also had to devote resources to answering service complaints that customers posted to Church’s timeline, including several angry, all-caps posts from a woman claiming that her family was turned away from an Augusta, Ga., Church’s location because the manager mistakenly would not admit a service dog for the woman’s disabled child. Church’s and its franchisee in Augusta apologized to the family and said so on the Facebook page, but negative feedback from other Facebook users continued for a few days.

Marie Callender's, Bubba Gump, Ponderosa drive engagement

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3. Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery
Weekly percent change: +17.4%
Index score: 5.74

Family-dining chain Marie Callender’s has had several weeks of double-digit growth in its Social 200 score, mostly due to Facebook content celebrating the brand’s 65th anniversary. In late July, the chain pivoted to a “Summer Backyard BBQ Contest,” in which fans can enter to win one of several Weber grills by liking Marie Callender’s Facebook page. The contest, which runs through Aug. 13, also is calling attention to the brand’s summer barbecue menu and a barbecue and pie combo.

4. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Weekly percent change: +15.1%
Index score: 7.93

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.’s most-engaging Facebook post of the past few weeks was created July 25, a few days before the measuring period for this report, but its spike in likes, comments and shares seemed to drive a carryover effect that brought about a double-digit gain in the casual-dining brand’s Social 200 index score. The photo of Bubba Gump’s drink lineup carried the caption, “What to choose?” Naturally, more Facebook fans than usual took part in the debate, weighing in with their favorite beverages in the comment section while also giving the post nearly 1,200 likes and 80 shares. On Twitter, the brand mostly stuck to responding to positive tweets during the first week of August.

5. Ponderosa Steakhouse
Weekly percent change: +14.6%
Index score: 6.90

Similarly to Bubba Gump, Ponderosa Steakhouse also encouraged a significant increase in comments to its Facebook page, and thus a double-digit spike to its Social 200 score, with an interrogative Facebook post meant to spur engagement. Its July 29 Facebook post was a summer picnic trivia question asking fans to identify a menu item from the Best of Summer Picnic Buffet, and one person who answered correctly was picked at random to receive a $25 gift card. While Ponderosa’s content typically averages comments in the single digits and a few dozen likes per posting, this post received 230 likes and more than 160 comments.

Contact Mark Brandau at
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