The NRN Social 200: What SMBs Can Learn from the Big Boys

by Swipely Team on June, 25 2013 in Operations


Social Media is well past the stage of being hailed as an emerging trend where just doing anything on Facebook or Twitter counted as an innovation and evidence of a social strategy. Established metrics that rank companies on the success of their social media efforts are becoming popular.

Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) created the Social 200 index to track the social media success of different players in the restaurant industry and underlines this new sophistication. For small business owners this is an opportunity to look at how some of the big names in the industry are faring, and take cues from their successes and failures.

A quick skim through the index reveals the usual suspects at the top. Numero Uno is Starbucks – already rated the No.1 socially engaged company across all industries in another independent ranking.

McDonald’s and Subway are in second and third place respectively, with just a few points separating them. McDonald’s interestingly, has had both huge hits and misses with social media.  It claims a 33 percent increase in traffic with just a $1,000 spend on Foursquare, but is also guilty of blowing $80,000 on a Twitter promotion where the hard-sell of promoted hashtags caused a furious backlash among the “twitterati.”

With Taco Bell in the fourth spot the QSR/Beverage segment may seem to have an advantage in the social media sweepstakes, given the demographic they attract. However, the casual dining segment has also fared well on the Social 200. Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Hooters are all in the Top 10. Olive Garden’s been particularly adept at using social media for generating positive PR, to the extent that people have questioned if it’s good to be true.

Like all indices, the NRN Social 200 is computed from a weighted set of scores. The scores are derived from a company’s performance on three major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Hopefully, the index will evolve to include hot new social networks like Pinterest—which set a record for being the fastest site to get to 10 million users, and of seasoned veterans like Foursquare.

The Social 200 is also good at capturing the movers and shakers, like in the case of the summer movements. The two largest gainers, Papa Murphy and Panda Express showed the benefits of having a single-platform strategy–both are heavy Facebook marketers and Panda Express has no Twitter presence at all.

A specific call to action helped Hungry Howie’s Pizza to a 20 percent increase in their index score. All they did was to ask people on both Facebook and Twitter to “Like” them if they had tried the month’s new flavor.

Family-dining chain Marie Callander’s took advantage of their 65th anniversary by going the contest route to reward people connecting with them on Facebook.

La Mirada, CA based chain Elephant Bar gained impressively when its customers started responding with their positive feedback on posts put up by the restaurant on new menu items.

So what are the takeaways for small restaurant owners from some of these examples?

  • Focus: Rather than blanket every social network with your messaging it would be beneficial to identify where you already enjoy some equity and then build on that platform.
  • Keep it Simple: Whether it's a contest or announcing a new menu item, the calls to action on social media are ideally kept simple and short, in keeping with the nature of the medium.
  • Take the Rough with the Smooth: Almost every major brand has had a meltdown on social media–the rapid response of commenters and viral spread making it seem worse. Most have made a comeback with success stories, so will you.
  • Metrics Matter: While all metrics and indices have their limitations, replying purely on anecdotal or event-based feedback of your social media efforts doesn’t help in a competitive market. Swipely can tie together you customer data and your social media data (along with a whole bunch of other things) ... just sayin'.

By the time the NRN announces its next big seasonal change to the Social 200 index, you should at least have a baseline score for your restaurant.

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