Building the Buzz Around Social Media


More than 350,000 Facebook fans? Check. Eighteen thousand Twitter followers? Check. Nearly 5,000 Instagram devotees? Check. Now, what’s a foodservice company to talk about?

Over the past few years, brands have been working hard to acquire social-media followers, heeding the call to “join the conversation” and have meaningful dialogue with their customers. “Everyone grew these social platforms to have an audience, and now, what else do you say to them?” says Drew Campbell, national Marketing manager, Digital and Social Media, at Mississauga, Ont.-based Boston Pizza.

The question highlights a big challenge in today’s social media environment: how to get fans and followers to stay on the page, particularly as social-media channels are maturing and there’s a glut of content. To stand out and keep things fresh, foodservice brands need to find new and unique ways to keep their social-media followers engaged.

“The public has grown to expect more value out of social-media channels than they originally did,” says Campbell. “It’s no longer good enough to use a social-media channel to broadcast information about a sale or discount. You can’t just go back to the public when you need something from them. People are now looking for entertainment value and participation in ongoing conversations.”

For Boston Pizza, one of the keys to engagement is being part of everyday conversations, with content that reflects timely issues. For example, if people are talking about something happening in the sports world, the brand looks for ways to be included in that dialogue. “We refer to it as looking for opportunities to win the moment,” says Campbell.

Earlier this year, one such sports conversation inspired the company to launch a social-media campaign called #DeadlineDay. In March, the NHL’s trade deadline sees a flurry of player trades from one team to another and generates a great deal of discussion among hockey fans about which players will get traded.

“We’re very familiar with NHL trade deadlines and for our guests who are connected to sports, it’s a hot topic for them,” says Campbell. “It’s interesting because everyone dreams of suggesting a great trade and participating in the trade process.”

Leading up to the NHL trade deadline, Boston Pizza asked its social-media followers to make them a trade offer by Feb. 29 in exchange for 10 individual pizzas. The campaign, which ran on Facebook and Twitter, was wildfire, says Campbell. “We received thousands of trade proposals — everything from a gentleman who was willing to get a tattoo of the Boston Pizza logo on his body in exchange for 10 pizzas, to somebody who was willing to donate 20 hours of volunteer time at his local youth sports charity.” On March 1, Boston Pizza named three winners and #DeadlineDay generated 2.9 million impressions on social media. “It was a way to win that moment and participate in a social-media conversation already taking place,” says Campbell. “And it was a great way to reward our guests.”

Rewarding fans with real-life experiences is another way brands stand out and create fan engagement. Social-media expert Jess Hunichen, co-founder of Toronto-based Shine PR, says consumers have so many media and entertainment options today so it’s important to bring social media into the real world every so often.
“While people do so much on social now, they still look for real-life experiences… No one wants to live their life behind a screen,” she says. “Brands need to offer the audience something valuable, and not necessarily a financial value, but an experience.”

One socially savvy restaurant chain that rewards fans with unique, real-world experiences is Taco Bell Canada. Last summer, fans could enter a contest for the chance to be included in a firefighter-themed calendar to promote Taco Bell’s new Fiery DLT. Twelve winners — one for each month — were photographed posing with hoses, fire trucks, axes and the new spicy taco.

“We want to make sure we give our fans the best experiences,” says Veronica Castillo, head of Marketing and R&D at Taco Bell Canada.
“We have a very strong relationship with our fans and it continues to grow. They’re waiting for us when there’s a new initiative because they know we truly engage and they can be heroes and have five minutes of fame.”

Taco Bell Canada, which targets millennials, has a history of turning up the heat on social media. Last year, its #proveit campaign rewarded three lucky fans with a trip to the company’s headquarters in California, including a visit to its famous test kitchen. Contest participants had to share evidence of their excitement for Doritos Cheesy Gordita Crunch (DCGC) before the product even launched in Canada.

Social-media personality Chris Carmichael also went on the trip. Carmichael is known as one of the world’s first stars on Snapchat, a mobile app and social-media network that launched in 2011. Snapchat allows users to send photos and videos, or “snaps,” that are automatically deleted after being viewed. Carmichael took over Taco Bell’s Snapchat to share his experiences on the trip. “We are bringing influencers into our world and we engage with them on a more offline level,” says Castillo. “We think they’re going to be a great way for us to [attract] new fans.”

Starbucks Canada works with social-media influencers to generate buzz and boost engagement for the brand. This past summer, for example, the coffee chain partnered with Canadian YouTube star Lauren Riihimaki (known as LaurDIY), to bring to life the story around Starbucks’ new Sparkling Teavana Iced Tea juices. Riihimaki, who has nearly three million subscribers to her YouTube channel, introduced the new beverage to her fan base through videos, social-media posts and in-person meet-ups in Vancouver and Toronto.

“She was the perfect combination of fun, young, creative and collaborative,” says Jessica Mills, director of Brand Communications at Starbucks Canada. “These events were wildly successful as it gave Starbucks an opportunity to be the catalyst between social storytelling and in-real-life experiences with LaurDIY and the product.”
Aside from engaging well-known influencers, brands are also working directly with passionate fans, or “super fans,” to help spread the word. Two years ago, Taco Bell created “Mas Nation,” an advisory board of fans it recruited from Facebook and Twitter. Taco Bell meets with about 20 board members on a quarterly basis to learn more about what they like, brainstorm new product and marketing campaign ideas and give them a sneak peek at upcoming product innovations.

“It’s not only great in terms of collecting insights from them, we also create brand ambassadors for the future,” says Castillo. “They are so engaged and passionate, and they feel that they are part of the decision making.” When Taco Bell launches new products, the advisory board members help spread the word on their own social-media channels. “They are great advocates of the brand,” says Castillo.

Whether a brand’s message is spread via influencers, super fans, or a company’s own team, social media allows brands to create an emotional connection with consumers. Alyssa Berenstein, brand manager at New York Fries, says brands are storytelling now, instead of selling. “Social-media platforms provide opportunities to brands to be more human and more natural,” she says.

To engage its young customers, New York Fries is staying ahead of the curve by testing out Snapchat, which most marketers have been slow to adopt. Just before Valentine’s Day, the brand launched its first-ever Snapchat promotion, “French Your Fry,” inviting consumers to send a “snap” of themselves kissing fries in exchange for a coupon for free fries. “We saw a whole new way that fans were engaging with us and it was one-to-one,” says Berenstein. “They were sharing snaps with us directly, then we had conversations with them, one-on-one.”

New York Fries’ foray into Snapchat was the first time the company considered itself a pioneer within a social-media platform. When New York Fries first launched on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it researched what other brands were doing before diving in, wanting to ensure it fully understood each platform.
“However, we felt there was an opportunity for us to start playing within the Snapchat platform because a lot of our customers are within the Snapchat sweet spot demographic of 13 to 25,” says Berenstein. “We decided to just go for it and not be an observer to the same degree we were with the other channels.”

Working with its agency, Toronto-based Instigator Communications, New York Fries continues to post content to Snapchat, including spoof videos featuring its mascot, Spud. “It’s just really fun and casual, and the great thing about it is it doesn’t have to be perfect,” says Berenstein. “It’s not a videographer who’s doing it and that’s why it works so well.”
While New York Fries is experimenting with Snapchat, it’s also tweaked its approach to long-standing social-media channels. In the past, New York Fries tried to get fans to share photos on Facebook, but it didn’t have much traction, according to Berenstein. The most successful fan engagements on Facebook are fun, easy contests, such as “would you rather have a poutine or fresh-cut fries?” with the chance to win a free order of fries. “A simple question paired with a delicious-looking image of our food can get us 1,000 likes and 500 comments,” says Berenstein. “It’s amazing what a free order of fries can motivate people to do using Facebook.”

The business objective of New York Fries’ social-media strategy is to increase customer frequency. Most of its locations are in food courts and there aren’t many new malls being built in Canada. “That’s why we’re putting a spotlight on our social strategies, because customer frequency is how we’ve been able to grow,” says Berenstein. Without doing any paid social-media posts or sponsorships, New York Fries has seen an increase in customer count, same-store sales and average cheque.
“It’s been a wonderful journey for our brand because we don’t take ourselves too seriously — we do sell French fries and poutine for a living,” says Berenstein. “That allows us to really see a lot of success in the social arena.”

Volume 49, Number 3 

Written By: Rebecca Harris

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