Social media content that engaged restaurant customers the most last month had more to do with brand-specific contests, giveaways or anniversaries than Father’s Day and graduation season promotions, according to the NRN Social 200.

The NRN Social 200 is an index that monitors and measures the social media success of the Top 200 largest restaurant brands, based on Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual census of brand U.S. sales. NRN has partnered with social media tracking and analysis firm TrackingSocial to create the index, which explores the engagement level and relationship between the largest restaurant brands and their social media audiences on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

NRN Social 200: Top gainers benefit from giveaways
The NRN Social 200 index
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During the month of June, NRN tracked the brands making the largest leaps in overall Social 200 index scores from week to week. Here’s a look at the social media trends that surfaced during the month.

No contest: Contests work

Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza had the month’s biggest gain on the Social 200 Index, recording an 88-percent jump the first week of June, following its May 29 announcement of its Take ‘N’ Grill Sweepstakes.

Because Papa Murphy’s derives most of its social-media influence on Facebook, the chain’s growth in “likes” was especially significant. In a June 1 post, Papa Murphy’s shared that its Facebook page earned more than 30,000 new likes in the first three days of the Take ‘N’ Grill contest, which accounts for more than 11 percent of the page’s nearly 260,000 total likes to date.

A smaller chain with a smaller base index score, Marie Callender’s, also brought about large gains in social engagement in June with a contest, which doubled as an anniversary celebration. The family-dining chain’s 65th birthday sweepstakes, which offered a $150 gift card as the prize, drove gains in Marie Callender’s Social 200 index score of 17.9 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively, in the first two weeks of June.

Quick-service chain Culver’s also increased its engagement steadily in June, including a 9.4-percent weekly gain the fourth week of June, on the strength of two contests: the ButterBurger Photobomb contest on Twitter and the Share the Love sweepstakes on Facebook.

In the former, fans were asked to upload pictures on Twitter of people getting “photobombed” by the chain’s burgers and to mark them with a special hash tag. The Share the Love sweepstakes promoted Culver’s featured frozen-custard Concrete Mixer for its current marketing window, made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Culver’s Facebook page surpassed 500,000 likes on June 17.

Giveaways are here to stay

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Quick-service chain Panda Express was among the top five biggest weekly gainers in the NRN Social 200 three out of the four weeks measured in June, with most of its engagement derived from Facebook. Panda’s most popular Facebook post for the month advertised its systemwide Orange Chicken giveaway set for June 21, earning more than 20,000 likes, nearly 6,000 shares and nearly 950 comments.

Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub improved upon its lower base index score in the second half of June with a giveaway of its own — albeit in a less formal style on Facebook. Rather than advertise an official named giveaway, Ninety Nine asked in a June 18 post, “Tell us what your favorite entrée is, and we will randomly pick one of the responses to win a Ninety Nine gift card!”

The chain’s index score increased 15.9 percent and 12 percent, respectively, in the third and fourth weeks of June.

Happy anniversaries

Offering a second box of doughnuts for 76 cents with one full-price purchase is almost like giving away its signature product, but Krispy Kreme Doughnuts’ June 13 promotion exemplified another marketing tactic that drove social engagement: the brand anniversary.

To celebrate its 76th anniversary, Krispy Kreme created a Facebook event for the offer on the 13th and promoted the day with several posts showing old photos of its doughnut shops through the years. The brand’s index score rose 18.2 percent over the second week of June.

Marie Callender’s 65th anniversary contest also made use of vintage photos to drive engagement in the sweepstakes, including photos of chain founder Marie Callender and a black-and-white picture of the Quonset hut where she started selling pies in 1948.

Similarly, A&W All-American Food shared vintage magazine advertisements and photos of its restaurants to celebrate its 94th birthday on its Facebook page and its Twitter account, which serves as the personal handle for its fictional mascot, Rooty. The quick-service chain’s index score increased 12.3 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, the third and fourth weeks of June.

Contact Mark Brandau at
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN