Operators are smart to embrace the concepts of Twitter and Facebook and most – 8 out of 10, according to the National Restaurant Association– expect to do so this year. But many chains continue to outsource this work rather than hire a social media expert in-house.
A survey done in late November by MustHaveMenus, a provider of restaurant menu templates, polled 1,300 operators and found that while almost half of restaurants invest in social media, only 12 percent actually hire someone specifically to manage their social media presence.
While large chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts are able to put a solid social team into place, it’s a fairly recent trend. The Golden Arches didn’t dedicate a department to social media efforts until early 2010.
Prior, much of the work was being done by its national PR agency, according to Ashlee Yingling, company spokesperson. Since the hiring of Rick Wion in the spring, McDonald’s first director of social media, the chain’s social presence has grown exponentially. The company also heavily relies on regionally based offices to handle market-specific updates via Twitter.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s social media team also has evolved since the company sent out its first tweet and updated its first Facebook status in 2008.
“Over the past year, responsibility for social media has transformed from a PR agency managing Facebook and a chief technology officer managing Twitter, to the two current internal members of the PR department executing the brand’s social media strategy,” said Kelsey Schmitt, communications coordinator at Popeyes.
The question is whether smaller companies will follow suit if they have the budget. Linda Duke, owner of Duke Marketing LLC, believes the extra hire (or more) is worth the investment.
“Several restaurant chains are hiring someone to manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as create and post videos and create conversations with guests, post news on community food blogs and generate interest using social media,” she said. “In my opinion, hiring a person to manage a brand’s social media communications is wise, as long as it’s integrated with the overall marketing plan.”
In the meantime
The reluctance in hiring social savvy staff is not only attributed to tight budgets (and schedules) but also a general apprehension toward change. The MustHaveMenus data found that 23 percent of owners/operators don’t believe they need social media to market to their customers, and 23 percent don’t believe they have time to do so. Although it’s tricky to quantify the ROI of social media, it’s easy to gauge the customer outreach benefits.
Schmitt said once Popeyes put its digital duo in place and established its goal of engaging with consumers in a “humorous, irreverent manner to monitor guest experience and share brand information on product innovation, marketing promotions and development,” the chain’s fan base grew from 270 Facebook fans to 115,161, and from 4,500 Twitter followers to 9,506. This number is from December, and the base continues to grow.
Outsourcing, juggling traditional marketing duties
Most restaurants continue to outsource social media work, as they do other creative assignments although the impetus to hire someone in-house may come sooner than later.
The biggest trends to emerge from the National Restaurant Association’s 2011 industry forecast revolve around social media. And, a majority of social media savvy consumers dine out more frequently than the general public and consider restaurants to be an essential part of their lifestyle.
But until those efforts are brought completely in-house or outsourced, marketing departments will continue to juggle the duties.
Checkers recently launched an official social media platform (as opposed to its fan-based accounts that have been in existence for years), which is managed through its digital agency MODE. Although MODE handles all social media duties, it is given direction from the in-house marketing team.
“We learned that if we didn’t act now, we’d be left behind,” said Terri Snyder, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Checkers. “Our consumers are heavily engrossed in digital, social and mobile mediums.”
At the end of 2010, Culver’s also added new components to its social media campaign. The company partnered up with First Data Corporation and, in doing so, surpassed 100,000 fans with its additional features. Although the partnership is in place, Culver’s assistant marketing manager Emily Patterson estimates that she spends between 30 to 40 percent of her time working on social media initiatives.
“We don’t have a social media department specifically. We all work together in terms of these efforts and, with Facebook and Twitter, we get help from an agency,” Patterson said.
That dynamic may shift as Culver’s readies for its social media expansion in 2011, including a bigger mobile marketing presence.
“All of these things we’re doing and plan on doing is entirely guest-driven and we have to reach those guests as much as possible,” said Paul Pitas, director of public relations and corporate communications at Culver’s. “If our guests are migrating toward a particular communication tool. Then we have to commit to that going forward with whatever staff or budget we have.”
Photo by Plymouth Devon.