Over the past several years large restaurant industry players have emerged as some of the most digitally-savvy companies. Currently nearly 9 out of 10 restaurants are embracing social conversation across multiple communities and platforms. The industry is catching on in a big way, and the opportunity for local independent restaurants is massive.

At Sprinklr we wanted to understand the breakdown of the most socially-savvy players in this $700 billion industry. Using our Social Business Index, we ranked the top 25 restaurant chains in social. We profiled brands on a variety of metrics including the number of followers and posts, the most effective engagement with consumers, the highest amount of share-worthy content, and others. You can find a more detailed analysis here.

top restaurants on social media sprinklr

While our data does somewhat tend to favor bigger brands with larger social communities, it demonstrates some key takeaways for smaller restaurant industry marketers. Below are three lessons that smaller restaurant chains and stores can learn from their larger-scale counterparts.

Engagement is key

It is true that all brands that made it onto our list have massive followings, produce loads of content, and maintain a presence on every major social platform. But the brands that ranked the best engagement-wise go further, producing content that their fans truly value, resulting in some of the top engagement ratios.

Wingstop, a mid-size chicken wing chain located in the southern United States with 650 stores, has about 1 million followers across its social networks. Through a combination of their relatively smaller size and share-worthy content, the local chain has maintained an astounding 30% engagement ratio with fans. One-third of Wingstop's community, over 300,000 people, are passionate enough about the restaurant to engage with the brand frequently.

top restaurants on social media sprinklr study

Conversely, McDonalds has just a 2% engagement ratio with their enormous audience. As a smaller business, Wingstop can activate a larger portion of its audience on social and capitalize on being locally recognized and community-oriented. For every 1000 people in their audience, Wingstop gets more value from engaging their community members than a brand like McDonalds, because they are able to focus more time on cultivating relationships. The brand knows its audience and local community--targeting sports fanatics and chicken lovers alike--and can create the memorable experiences with which fans will want to connect.

Wingstop1

Wingstop2

The most successful companies have learned to engage and activate loyal communities through interesting, relevant content and scalable engagement tactics. The result? High engagement and continued advocacy.

SMBs don't need to compete with the larger communities of brands like KFC and Domino's. Instead, small operators can find ways to create unique experiences for their local fans by focusing on events and opportunities that are hyper-relevant to that geographical group of people. Managing experiences in this way can drive significant, meaningful engagement with followers and allow brands to build relationships both online and offline in the best way possible.

Harness the power of local communities

Smaller-scale restaurant professionals do not need multi-million-dollar marketing budgets to build and engage their local communities. Their communities are small, geographically convenient, and easier to connect with on a personal level. Locally-known brands and stores are able to find ways to build online communities around their one location or small number of locations in ways that bigger brands simply cannot.

Between 2012 and 2013, location-based social media efforts rose 41% amongst restaurant owners. Participating in location-based social is a great way to provide relevant, meaningful experiences to consumers.

I recommend brands look at social communities as just one part of their local marketing mix that should include local promotions (both print and mobile), participating in community events, etc. Social media is simply a natural extension of the physical geographical community.

Brands like Taco Bell and Domino's have indeed built up strong, international social communities that advocate on behalf of their brand. These major players see the same benefits in terms of building local communities on social. But smaller operators have the upper hand: they really are a part of these local communities and have an invaluable personal knowledge of their current and potential customers.

Experiences matter. A lot.

Social media offers smaller operators a chance to level the playing field. Local establishments--especially restaurants--have an opportunity to connect with customers on a level that the big guys can't. One of those opportunities is to provide tailored, rewarding experiences that spark and drive conversations between brand and consumer.

Local brands shouldn't be concerned with the fact that they can't compete with McDonalds and their large audience. Smaller chains can drive significant, meaningful engagement by maintaining local relationships with already-established communities in the right way. This all comes through amazing experiences that niche, local brands have the power to create.

Encourage your biggest fans to write online reviews on sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. With 68% of consumers looking to social networking sites such as these for product research and 72% of consumers trusting these online reviews, these sites can be a great resource for your local business.

Who is better at building relationships with local customers than local entrepreneurs? Creating amazing experiences and harnessing relationships is the bread and butter of small-to-medium-sized business owners--social media brings that online, gives people an additional outlet for expression, and an opportunity to optimize their strategies, as well as measure results. Smaller businesses have the ability to be agile, truly know their customers, and provide experiences that will resonate.

Conclusion

Social technology gives smaller restaurants and chains an opportunity to take on the big players like never before. By prioritizing engagement, harnessing the power of their existing communities, and continuing to create great customer experiences, SMBs can use social to stay relevant and profitable in a competitive industry.

Download the full data report to dive deeper into the numbers behind the restaurant industry ranking and take a look at Sprinklr's Social Business Index for rankings and leaderboards of other industries.

Published on: Dec 1, 2014