How the Restaurant Industry is Using Twitter to Take Risks, be More Human, and Blow Our Minds.

April 17, 2018

How the Restaurant Industry is Using Twitter to Take Risks, be More Human, and Blow Our Minds.

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Last week we looked at how social media helped turn Chipotle’s E. coli outbreak into a national PR crisis, which not only cost them millions in lost sales but also led to their stock plummeting. Today, as part of our ongoing series on the impacts of social media on the restaurant industry, I wanted to dive into some examples of how many restaurants are leveraging social media (specifically Twitter) to bust out of the box by developing a more personable brand voice that creates trust and brand loyalty. The reason I love these examples is because they are using Twitter to cast off the typical staunch, corporatized messaging so common in today’s marketing and advertising. They are doing something new, something that will certainly attract negative attention, cost them some customers, and earn some criticism, but also something that will stir up the conversation and get millions of people to take notice of their brand.  But first, let me show you an example and I’m 100% sure you’ll know where I’m headed.

wendys ice cream tweet

That’s right-Twitter fights!

I don’t know when it started (my gut instinct says it was Wendy’s) or why (cause why not?) but I’m sure glad it’s a thing now. The restaurant industry has embraced the Twitter battle unlike any other industry and is showing no signs of slowing down. Wendy’s Twitter is arguably the most popular for its barrage of hilariously sarcastic tweets, earning mentions from media sites like Buzzfeed, BoredPanda, and AdWeek. It even had its own AMA (ask me anything) segment on Reddit. So why is it so popular? What made their Twitter account so entertaining? I imagine one of the main reasons is that no one is exempt from a cutting rebuke; they go after customers and competition equally. Their Twitter got so popular that people were tweeting out to Wendy’s just hoping for 15 seconds of stardom by getting “roasted” online.

Wendys Twitter Roast

Man, that Twitter game is “fire”! Am I saying that right? I’m old.

And since marketers ruin everything, you know there’s no way other fast food chains would miss jumping on the bandwagon. In no time at all we see Twitter accounts popping up and doing their best to imitate Wendy’s by shedding the corporate jargon and embracing sarcasm. Just look at this fight between Wendy’s and Carl’s Jr.

Carls Wendys Twitter battle

You can almost cut the tension with a knife. Bet they met after school at the flagpole too. Let’s take a look at one more example because I can’t get over the amount of attention this received.

Not actually a video. Just a screenshot. 

So if you look at the original tweet from McDonald’s, they had 5.8k shares and 7.9k reshares. Not bad. But then compare that to Wendy’s reply, which got 72k retweets and 180k likes. Wowzers. Not to mentions the 7.5k comments. It is hard to imagine reaching an audience that size by doing what everyone else is doing.

But Twitter battles between fast food restaurants are the hip young thing, then larger, less “fast-foody” chains trying to get in on the action must be like people in their late 30’s trying to use slang like “fire”.  Let’s take a look at this “cringey” (he’s trying too hard and it’s embarrassing) feud between Outback Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse.

According to Buzzfeed, Texas Roadhouse started the feud when they retweeted this meme.

Texas roadhouse attempt to roast on twitter

I feel like the meme is hilarious but Texas Roadhouse missed the mark with their comment. To me, it just seems too robotic and awkward next to a Spongebob meme. Why not be more conversational and use an abbreviation? Feels like they are trying too hard.

Outback Steakhouse, not one to back down from a challenge, replied with this meme.

I do have to applaud Outback not only for calling out Texas Roadhouse’s failure to actually tag @Outback in a tweet but for their use of the popular Evil Patrick meme, which is so hot right now.  But then Texas Roadhouse comes back with six-shooters blazing and responds with this tweet.

outback steakhouse twitter

And finally, not to be outdone, Outback replies with this gem:

What I love about this is the original and creative use of Twitter as a marketing tool. You don’t see too many companies willing to take off their proverbial corporate hoop earrings and publicly go at it. These restaurants are doing things with social media that you just don’t see from the automotive or financial industries who are still too concerned about maintaining a “professional” appearance to debase their reputation with this form of marketing. And while it would be difficult to track ROI and attribute an increase in sales to snarky tweets, you can’t argue that the attention they are generating is a bad thing. The more casual, human voice is refreshing and entertaining and certainly sets these restaurants apart from their competition.

Taking the high road

But not all restaurants use Twitter for such nefarious purposes. Some use it just to provide entertainment and amazing customer service. Taco Bell for example, although they periodically get pulled into some Twitter beef, is mostly absent from these spats. Instead, they use their Twitter account for replying to customers, sending out free swag, and building trust and loyalty by sharing their audience’s content. To make sure they are as customer-centric as possible, Taco Bell has something like 18 Twitter accounts in various languages. In addition to their Twitter game, Taco Bell has also done some incredibly creative content marketing with videos on Youtube.

Taco bell customer service on twitter

And I can’t leave out @Mortons, whose customer service went above and beyond in response to a loyal customer’s tweet. I wrote about in depth about this story for a previous blog (read it here) so I won’t go into too much detail, but here’s the gist: A customer jokingly tweeted out to them about how hungry he was going to be when his plane landed and how much he would love a Morton’s steak dinner waiting for him at the airport. Yadda yadda yadda a Morton’s waiter met him at the airport holding a bagged full course meal. They used leveraged Twitter to provide amazing customer service and build a relationship with a customer.

NUVI social listening for customer service

Mind. Blown.

At the end of the day, the restaurant industry has done an amazing job taking advantage of social media as a way to engage with customers and create conversations that extend far beyond their own brand. They are able to garner media attention through clever marketing and reach a larger audience than would have been possible through more “traditional means.” These companies have found creative ways to build genuine relationships with their fans, which leads to trust, loyalty, and repeat business. By leveraging Twitter as a platform for a more human, relatable voice, these restaurants have increased their audience size far beyond what they could have done otherwise. I think/ hope we will see more brands willing to take risks and embrace the challenge of creating new, creative content.

If you are going to be at the National Restaurant Association Show next month, find our booth to learn how social listening can be a major asset to the restaurant industry. In addition to preventing and managing a potential crisis, social listening also makes it much easier to stay top of mind by creating authentic relationships with your audience.

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