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Restaurants use Twitter to increase brand awareness

Posted: October 6, 2009 5:38 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2009 5:38 p.m.
 
Donald Munroe, managing partner of a restaurant in Atlanta, accesses his latest marketing tool through a cell phone.

Munroe shoots out short bursts on Twitter about events, promotions and new beers on tap to more than 300 loyalists of his Taco Mac store.

"I tweet every day," Munroe said. "My wife calls it my second wife."

And, Munroe has seen results. Recently, a group of six people stopped by for Pint Night, where customers get a free glass with the beer of the month, because one person in the group saw a reminder on Twitter.

The Atlanta Midtown location used to take several hours to run out of free glasses for the monthly 5 p.m. promotion. "We're out of glasses by 6 o'clock now," Munroe said.

A social media sensation, Twitter also is fast becoming a tool companies hope will boost their business. The service allows people to send 140-character "tweets" to other people who have signed on as their followers.

Several restaurant chains have jumped on board. Taco Mac, Chick-fil-A, Hooters, Popeyes, Church's Chicken, Ted's Montana Grill, Shane's Rib Shack and Planet Smoothie are just some of the brands with Twitter accounts.

The size and growth of Twitter is hard to ignore. In June, Twitter.com attracted almost 21 million unique visitors, putting it behind only Facebook, MySpace and Blogger among online member communities, according to Nielsen Co.

Sorting out how businesses should use Twitter is another matter, said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of consumer enterprise research for Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology research and consulting firm.

No one has come up with a good way to quantify the benefits of Twitter, Kerravala said. But businesses should be experimenting with the service, he said.

Companies should view social media as a marketing tool to go with other outlets, such as print, radio and TV advertising, Kerravala said. Twitter may not be the best way to reach everyone, but it does provide a quick and easy way to communicate with some customers, he said.

"I truly believe there's value in the community," Kerravala said. "Social media will live on, but it may not be Facebook and Twitter down the road."

Restaurants chains are testing the Twitter waters with a variety of approaches. Some outlets for Shane's Rib Shack and Planet Smoothie have offered coupons through Twitter. Church's Chicken has used Twitter to drop clues for a contest where it hands out $1,000 to a customer at restaurants.

Rival chicken chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, though, has shied from using Twitter to push coupons and contests. It has more than 5,300 followers.

"We really are using it as a true engagement tool," said Alicia Thompson, Popeyes vice president of communications and public relations. "It's a way for us to build the brand and to keep top-of-mind awareness with our consumers by giving the brand a face and a personality."

A pair of Popeyes employees posts frequent tweets, often responding to the comments of fans. Popeyes sees opportunities to use Twitter to address customer questions, get input on where to put new stores and gather feedback from core customers.

"We want to touch all of our consumers wherever they are in the manner that is most suited to them," Thompson said.

Taco Mac turned to Twitter this year because the blog for beverage director Fred Crudder didn't have room to include all the beer news at different restaurants.

Some Taco Macs have more than 100 beers on tap, with kegs being added and retired several times a week.

It set up Twitter accounts for 23 stores, which combined have more than 1,800 followers.

"What we liked about Twitter was that because of the coverage we have in metro Atlanta, the customers could pick what stores they followed individually based on what their movements are," Crudder said.

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