Most quick-service brands finally have an understanding of how they can leverage social media — even if they don't have a social media director like McDonald's just appointed. A few, like Dunkin' Donuts' Dunkin' Dave, lead the way in customer engagement.
Many of those brands have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, while some also have added a YouTube channel as well as other channels. Still, a few have yet to delve deeply into the realm, most notably Burger King and Arby's.
Arby's, for example, has a Facebook page with almost 55,000 likes to date. But it seems to be approaching Twitter more slowly. While @officialarbys does exist on Twitter and appears to be an authentic company address, there's been only a single post, and that on March 16. Meanwhile, several Arby's franchisees have set up their own accounts and are actively engaged.
Burger King appears to be on Twitter since the @burgerking handle exists, but its authorship is questionable. Earlier this month, the @burgerking homepage displayed PETA's old Murder King icon with PETA listed as the account name. That information has since been changed to an avatar with a modified Burger King logo proclaiming Crunk Ain't Dead instead of the brand name. The bio includes the trademark symbol after the company name but it claims to be "Putting the Meat Back into the music scene! Put that in your bun and toast it!"
Burger King does have some presence on Twitter. There are several Twitter handles using some form of the Burger King name, including several for the chain in other countries, such as Puerto Rico (@burgerkingpr). Burger King's @BKhire is barely active, with occasional tweets about job openings. But it only has 24 followers and tweets about job openings, the last on April 22.
The bio for @bksnack says it is the official page for Burger King's branded snacks, but it only has one tweet posted — dated August 2009. There is an @OfficialWhopper handle, which includes a backdrop with photos the brand's King and appears to be an authentic account but has had only one post, in mid-April.
Cost of not being on Twitter
With McDonald's, Wendy's and Taco Bell active on Twitter and other popular social media sites, is there any drawback to these brands not following suit? Will Marlow, social media strategist and co-founder of social-based fundraising software provider AlumniFidelty, said maybe not for some businesses, but for QSRs, yes.
"A quick search finds that Burger King is a hugely popular topic on Twitter," he said. "Much of the chatter is positive, and this represents an enormous missed opportunity for BK to join the conversation."
Plenty of coverage has been devoted to the value of engaging fans via social media, but Marlow says Burger King and Arby's are missing out on other opportunities as well. Those companies with a robust social media strategy also are viewing the sites as a marketing channel. Some, like Taco Bell did with its new Tortada, are now announcing new products via social media rather than traditional PR channels.
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With no established presence on Twitter, Burger King and Arby's also may find themselves unprepared in the event the buzz in the space turns negative, such as Dominoes did after an employee video prank created a PR crisis last year. (Though the company did learn quickly how to utilize social media to right the situation.)
"When something horrible happens and it becomes a trending topic, who will carry your message," Marlwo asked. "The older and more long-standing your social media presence, the greater its reach will be and the greater its level of trust/authenticity will be."
Burger King also faces the possibility that fans could become confused about their identity on those sites. Fans who land on the @burgerking home page will undoubtedly be confused by the messaging. On Facebook, a search of Burger King turns up a Wikepedia site about the brand and a Burger King! fan page, but no official Burger King USA communication. (There is an active Burger King UK page.)
Social media strategists suggest Burger King can help protect its brand identity on Twitter by requesting a verified account. Twitter is beta testing the program that assures visitors they are indeed interacting with the authentic account of a celebrity or business. The site is not accepting new verified account requests but will help businesses facing impersonating accounts resolve the problem. Twitter also has rules against what it calls name squatting and allows companies to claim their trademarked name.
Mario Almonte, managing partner of Herman and Almonte PR, said Twitter and Facebook both are developing programs to filter out any poseurs.
"However, they can't police everyone, so it is important for major brand to 'police' these sites, not just to see how they are being talked about, but also to ensure than no one is impersonating them."
Almonte also warns that QSRs not on Twitter are losing out on lucrative opportunities. With Arby's and Burger King so well known, they have a fan base just waiting to connect with them on the channel. For example, the Burger King! Facebook fan page has more than 230,000 likes.
"They can easily funnel a small percentage of the millions of dollars they spend annually in advertising to provide something as simple as discount coupons to their fans," he said.
Loss of opportunities
Joe Beccalori, co-founder and principal of Internet marketing firm Interact Marketing, said that by not engaging with their fans on social media, especially Twitter, the brands could be losing out on other opportunities, including market research. He also sees a correlation between brands actively engaged with fans on social media and their sales performance.
"Companies that have social media profiles are on more of an upswing, whereas Burger King's stock price has taken a downturn," he said. "Also, through Compete.com we have found that there is an 80 percent drop in web traffic to Burger King's site as opposed to McDonald's and Taco Bell (both active on Twitter), which have shown percentage increases."
Could there be a correlation with sales as well? Wendy's early this year began engaging with fans on Twitter via @wendys but Arby's has yet to start. Wendy's same-store sales have been stronger than sister brand Arby's during the recession, but during the period the brand was on Twitter, the company had positive same-store sales in February — and some of the strongest in QSR — despite severe winter weather. The company reported Thursday that it ended its most recent quarter with positive comps of 0.8 percent. Arby's were down 11.5 percent.
Beccalori's research on Arby's and Burger King found that Burger King is searched more than 22 million times a year online and Arby's 3.5 million times, according to SEOBook.com. His search on Twitter found that someone tweets about Burger King once a minute and Arby's about once every 30 minutes.
With those stats in hand and the limited investment to get started on social media, Beccalori sees no reason why the brands would hesitate.
"The fact is that it would cost $500 to $700 to acquire profiles on the top 300 social media sites, which is pocket change to protect a billion dollar brand," he said.
Other experts question why Burger King— who has a history of online creative including microsites such as Subservient Chicken, the Whopper Sacrifice App on Facebook and viral videos such as Burger King Japan's Eat Like a Snake video — would hesitate to fully embrace social media.
Burger King's new CMO, North America, Michael Kappitt said the company is developing its social media strategy.
"We are working diligently to determine the best and most innovative methods to continue engaging and interacting with our fans in ways that they find both entertaining and beneficial," he said. "The challenge for Burger King, or any brand, is distinguishing between what's possible and what's relevant to our core consumer."