Restaurants share keys to social media success at Summer Brand Camp conference

Representatives of restaurant brands shared their social media knowledge at the conference

How restaurants are successfully tapping into and using social media remained one of the main themes during the recent People Report Summer Brand Camp conference in Dallas.

Representatives of restaurant brands as varied as Applebee’s, Boloco, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Firehouse Subs and Taco Bell shared their social media knowledge at the conference, sponsored June 5-8 by the Dallas-based People Report and Black Box Intelligence consultancies.

Sally Smith, chief executive of Buffalo Wild Wings, told the 325 attendees, “Everything we do is about making personal connections, and social media is just one of the tools we use to facilitate this process.”

The Minneapolis-based company, which has more than 830 units in the United States and Canada, has found Facebook to be a good platform for social media efforts, according to Smith. “ Luckily, Facebook happens to be a natural fit for us,” she said, pointing out that many of the younger Buffalo Wild Wings guests have Facebook pages.

Buffalo Wild Wings has more than 7.5 million Facebook Fans, “which is as much a testament to the dedication of our fans as it is to our efforts to attract them,” Smith said. And of those fans, 88,726 are “talking about” the brand.

“Our large fan base has a passionate interest in connecting with others, be it in the restaurant or online,” Smith said.

Simplicity plays a key role in those social media efforts, Smith indicated. The chain’s top post of all-time was two words — “Mmmmmm. Beer.” — and a photograph of a glass of brew. Smith noted that the post was “pretty simple, but it sparked some really great conversation. One guest even wrote: ‘Beer is the best beverage ever invented.’”

“Generally, we view Facebook as a guest page and we really try not to control the conversations,” Smith added. “We find our guests are quick to respond to negative posts, and that helps keep our page authentic.”

In addition, Smith said Buffalo Wild Wings sees Facebook as an extension of restaurant experience, using it more as a social interaction and less as a sales pitch. “But once in a while, we share news about our products," he said. "Last week, we posted a picture of one of our salads, an Asian chicken salad, and we said, ‘Just because you want a salad doesn’t mean you don’t want flavor. Our Asian chicken salad has the best of both worlds.’ Almost 600,000 people had something to say about that.”

The sports-oriented brand also finds game-day postings on Facebook pages can spur intense conversation, she said, and Buffalo Wild Wings remains the top checked-in restaurant on Facebook.

The company also maintains dual presence on Twitter, one for marketing (@BWWings) and one for recruitment (@BWWcareers), Smith said.

“Our guests really do feel a connection to our brand,” she said, which was exhibited earlier this year when fans created and uploaded a six-minute documentary to YouTube that chronicled the opening of a new unit in London, Ontario.

The unsolicited video exemplifies fans' loyalty to the brand, Smith said, as it provides a look at those waiting days in sub-freezing temperatures to be among the first 100 at an opening and to be awarded with free wings every week for a year. And it humorously picked up on current events with the #OccupyBuffaloWildWings hashtag popularized in social media.

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