Red Lobster may be making headlines for its slumping sales and possible changes in ownership, but it is nonetheless winning brand love from its social media followers.

The 706-unit casual-dining chain finished No. 4 overall in Nation’s Restaurant News’ revamped Social 200 rankings at the start of business on April 3, with a 909 score out of a possible 1,000, trailing only Baskin-Robbins, Olive Garden and Dunkin’ Donuts, and signifying that an intensified focus on social media marketing is working.

NRN reintroduced its Social 200 platform in early April to index the social media effectiveness of the restaurant industry’s largest brands on a daily basis. The tool tracks, quantifies and ranks the social relationships between consumers and the restaurant brands included in NRN’s Top 200 census based on U.S. systemwide sales.

Analysis of the Social 200 reveals a restaurant brand’s owned impressions resulting from its posts across established social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and newer ones like Instagram. The Social 200 also quantifies earned impressions derived from fan interactions on those platforms and measures the negative and positive sentiments within those fan actions.

Red Lobster ranked 10th out of 200 brands in terms of its engagement ratio, which measures the portion of the chain’s approximately 4.7 million followers across social media channels that interacted with the brand. Red Lobster also had the 19th highest content engagement ratio, which measures the average number of social actions — likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. — received each time a brand posts content.

Red Lobster’s parent company, Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., is exploring a spinoff of the brand following a prolonged sales slump, including an 8.8-percent decrease in same-store sales for the Feb. 23-ended third quarter. Darden also indicated recently that marketing expenditures would decrease for traditional broadcast media like TV and increase for digital platforms like email and social media.

“Some of the new marketing and digital capabilities that we’ve added really are designed to enable us to have much more robust, one-on-one conversations with guests,” chief executive Clarence Otis said during Darden’s second-quarter earnings call in December. “As those scale up, we would expect our television marketing expenses to scale down dramatically. So it is an upfront investment in really trying to meaningfully improve the business model down the road.”

Data compiled by social-analytics company Sprinklr found that Red Lobster’s social media efforts not only achieved a fair amount of that one-to-one engagement Otis sought, but also had a broadcast-like effect when “owned impressions” yielded “earned impressions” for the brand.


Over the past 30 days, Red Lobster had an active audience of about 351,000 people interacting on social media with the brand, and when they liked, shared, commented on or retweeted Red Lobster’s posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, they generated 15.6 million owned impressions.

Separate from those owned impressions — meaning social actions resulting from the brand’s posting activity — the same active audience of about 351,000 people also generated 35.5 million earned impressions, or the total number of views the brand received from activities originating from social-media users involving the brand, such as retweets or @mentions on Twitter.

Comparing Red Lobster’s 35.5 million earned impressions in the past 30 days to its 15.6 million owned impressions over that time, Sprinklr calculated that the social actions of Red Lobster’s active audience amplified the brand’s activity by more than 227 percent.

Over just the past seven days, Red Lobster’s most engaging Facebook post and tweet both dealt with its promotional activity. Otis said during the second-quarter earnings call that the brand wanted to de-emphasize its TV messaging, but that content proved popular with the chain’s audience in social media.

A Facebook post from Monday, March 31, that advertised the “RLunch” deal of seven lunch options for $7.99, received 28,600 likes, and more than 1,200 shares. Sprinklr analyzed Red Lobster’s total activity on Facebook for the seven-day period ended April 3 and found that positive sentiment from Facebook fans far outweighed negative sentiment, with 753 positive comments versus 127 negative comments.

In the same seven-day period, Red Lobster’s most-engaging tweet, which promoted the Lobsterfest offer using the hashtag #BestLobsterfest garnered 290 retweets, 432 favorites and 20 @replies. Sprinklr’s analysis of Red Lobster’s total Twitter activity during the seven-day period found that negative sentiments toward the brand fell 6 percent to 30 negative interactions, while positive sentiment grew 16 percent to more than 1,100 positive mentions.

Contact Mark Brandau at
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