Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 2-part series about the effects of photo-based social media campaigns in restaurants.
Back in the 1800s when photography was first invented, it would have been hard to imagine people using the technology to document lunch. As restaurants are quickly discovering, however, food photography is not something to be dismissed as a passing fad. In a world of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, restaurant owners worldwide are using this concept as a key element of their marketing strategies.
The question is, does it work? Many restaurants prompt customers to share photos for any number of reasons. And it would seem to be a great way to establish a sense of ownership in a restaurant's brand among its diners. But some of the results of both these types of campaigns and research about their core principles show the answers are not as simple as they might seem.
By way of example, we looked at two photo-based social media campaigns that take very different approaches.
2 restaurant social media photo initiatives
The first anecdote is Wendy's #Share4Adoption campaign. According to a company press release, Wendy's serves drinks in specially designed cups that feature a picture of a hand making half a heart on the front. Wendy's donates $5 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption every time one of its consumers completes the heart with his own hand and posts the picture to social media. The charity helps children in foster care find homes while giving customers an opportunity to help with a great cause.
"When you’re scrolling through your social media feed reading stories about those in need, the instinct to help is often overcome by the difficulty of not knowing how to help," said Wendy's Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito, in a news release about the campaign. She is also a trustee of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. "Our #Share4Adoption campaign makes it incredibly easy to raise awareness for these children, which will ultimately help them get adopted. We are honored to serve the cause our founder was so passionate about and encourage everyone to join us in making hearts whole."
This campaign gives Wendy's customers a chance to help the world around them while simultaneously growing its connection to the brand. Every time a consumer completes posts a picture to social media, Wendy's gets positive exposure that connects with the chain's founder's vision of helping youngsters who need to find loving homes. At the same time, the brand gets its logo on every #Share4Adopion photo posted. Wendy's references this fact in its press release, stating that last year's #Share4Adoption campaign garnered 100,000 mentions in seven weeks.
Bruster's sharing feelings
Another effort along these lines comes from Bruster's, which is sponsoring a Twitter and Instagram campaign titled "#ThatBrustersFeeling." Between now and Aug. 2, Bruster's customers may post photos of themselves or others on social media for a chance to win free ice cream, according to a news release.
The following video explains Bruster's campaign and shows how sharing pictures on social media can be used in almost any restaurant setting.
The formula is simple: Post a pic and hopefully get picked.
"We're trying to increase our engagement with a millennial-driven audience and using social media as the primary vehicle to do so," Bruster's Marketing Vice President Jennie Brinker said in an interview with FastCasual.com. "That's been a key strategy for us as a company this year — really elevating our social media presence as a company is going to continue to be a primary marketing strategy as long as I’m leading."
While Bruster's and Wendy's have taken different approaches to similar campaigns, they are both striving for awareness. One seeks to strictly market itself with customers, while the other seeks to establish the chain's commitment to a worthwhile outside cause. Although the objectives differ, both brands managed to engage their customers and give them a sense of ownership in the brand.
"Our primary goal was to drive more traffic and to get more engagement on our social platform, and we are seeing that," Brinker said. "We get a lot of customer traffic anyway during the summer-time, the consumers are really having fun, you [can] just tell by their photo submissions thus far with their experience around the brand. We're seeing a lot more engagement in conversation happening on our our social platform, so that's really what our goal was — to get more engagement. Believe me, you’re going to see Bruster's doing a lot more of this to try to drive engagement in our social platform. Like I said, it’s a primary marketing strategy for us as a company."
Editor's note: Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of this series as we examine the research and the underlying consequences of photo-based social media marketing campaigns in restaurants.