Several social media strategies emerged among restaurant companies trying to stay top-of-mind with their fans during the month of August, and compelling value offerings helped some of the brands with bigger levels of engagement move the needle even more.

NRN Social 200: How brands elicit audience engagement
NRN Social 200: Singular sensations lift brands in July
The NRN Social 200

According to a monthlong analysis of the NRN Social 200, chains showing the biggest gain in social-media interaction from week to week refreshed their Facebook and Twitter platforms with aggressive offers or slick photos of their product offerings, and those that posted more consistently tended to see their index scores improve and maintain.

Some other brands also showed that if they picked up the pace of their posting, their social-engagement scores could break out of the doldrums. But if they did not sustain that newfound level of activity, their scores showed the ability to recede to even lower levels for the last few dog days of summer.

Deals of the month

August contained some of the largest weekly gains for several industry heavyweights, which also operate from higher base Social 200 index scores. In most cases, the key factor in growing index scores by double digits off of already high values was an aggressive deal or offer.

Red Lobster, for instance, is one of the largest chains by unit count and systemwide sales to land on the weekly list of biggest Social 200 score gains this summer. During the third week of August, its score rose 12.3 percent to 47.96 on the strength of its Facebook content for the popular Endless Shrimp promotion. Its Aug. 12 post announcing the return of Endless Shrimp received more than 150,000 likes, 26,000 shares and 6,000 comments, and a complementary tweet was retweeted more than 1,300 times and favorited more than 400 times.

That same week, family-dining chain Bob Evans had the largest gain in Social 200 index scores with a 26.8-percent increase to 18.10. While the brand usually tends to favor food shots for its Facebook and Twitter posts, its messaging around a gift card sweepstakes earned the most engagement during the month. A mid-August Facebook post calling for entries into a sweepstakes for $25 gift cards or a $100 gift card grand prize received nearly 6,000 likes and more than 200 shares and 300 comments.

While Buca di Beppo’s system of 92 domestic restaurants lags far behind Red Lobster’s or Bob Evans’ systems in the United States, the casual-dining brand nonetheless notched several big increases in its Social 200 index scores, including a 29.3-percent gain to 26.76 in the third week of August. All summer, Buca di Beppo has earned social engagement, primarily through Facebook, on the strength of its deals and offers. One of its latest promotions was a $15-off coupon executed as a Facebook Offer, which was redeemed more than 86,000 times and earned more than 20,000 likes.

Food shots break through

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Other companies made major gains in their social engagement last month by focusing on their offerings, even without any discounts. Typically, they accomplished this through professional food shots of menu items.

During the fourth week of August, for example, Caribou Coffee increased its score 10.2 percent to 17.01 by promoting its autumn lineup of pumpkin-flavored drinks and baked goods, including one food shot of the menu items that received about 3,500 Facebook likes and about 550 shares, as well as more than 100 retweets and more than 60 favorites on Twitter. Interestingly, however, Caribou spurred even more engagement by promoting the pumpkin items with just text. A “Like if you’re glad pumpkin is back” Facebook message received more than 4,400 likes and more than 125 comments, even with no picture.

In the third and fourth weeks of the month, food shots helped Noodles & Company grow its Social 200 scores 9.5 percent and 11.5 percent for the week, respectively.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.drove a 15.1-percent gain in its Social 200 score to 7.93 during the first week of August with a Facebook post of its drink and cocktail lineup carrying the caption, “What to choose?” The open-ended question, as always, sparked a lot of discussion from fans weighing in with their favorite items in the comments section, which garnered nearly 1,200 likes and 80 shares for Bubba Gump.

That same week, Charley’s Grilled Subs scored the highest weekly score increase by changing its cover photo to a food shot of the Smokehouse Bacon BBQ sandwich. The brand saw a 21.6-percent increase in its score to 7.70. The promoted post pinned to the top of Charley’s Facebook page was the first new piece of content on the brand’s page for about five days, and the resumption of activity after a few dormant days likely also contributed to the gain.

Disengagement spurs disenchantment

Così’s up-and-down August demonstrated that consistent activity on social-media platforms can bring about the fan engagement brands need, and conversely, that social-media silence can undo hard-won gains in that kind of interaction.

Though it started with a base Social 200 index score near 6.00, Così nonetheless effected a weekly gain in its score of more than 25 percent in the second and fourth weeks of August. Like Charley’s, the fast-casual sandwich chain appeared to benefit from posting relevant content on its Facebook page more frequently than it had in the months leading up to August.

In both weeks, the brand followed up a long stretch of not posting any content by sharing several pictures of a newly reopened store in Columbus, Ohio.

But the brand further showed the value of devoting the time to social-media marketing in its falloff in its Social 200 score since mid-August, when the Aug. 17 sharing of photos from Columbus was the last update to the brand’s Facebook page. As of Sept. 3, Così’s score had fallen back to 4.19 after its Facebook page had been dormant for more than two weeks. In the past week, the score had decreased 31 percent.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN