Chick-fil-A’s Cows Graze on Social Media

Chick-fil-A’s recently launched microsite,, is the latest attempt by the restaurant chain to turn its cows — well-known from TV commercials — into viral marketing thoroughbreds. Its launch follows the company’s successful build-up of one of the biggest Facebook presences in the restaurant niche.

After numerous focus groups showed that Chick-fil-A’s audience cherished the cow characters about as much as its food, the company decided it was time to ramp-up their presence online, said Michael McCathren, conversation catalyst for the College Park, GA-based brand.

McCathren said user-generated activity about the cows had increased on sites like YouTube and Flickr. Traffic to the microsite — which features an interactive “cow hideout,” video games, and clips — doubled in the last week compared to its first seven days, despite a lack of promotion. The soft launch will end when Chick-fil-A’s opt-in list receives an e-mail promoting the site later this month.

Facebook Smash

Meanwhile Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page has become one of the few run by a restaurant chain to tally up more than 1 million fans.

Fourteen months ago, Chick-fil-A had just 20,000 “fans” at the site, while a freelance, non-paid enthusiast named Brandy Bitzer had started the fan page without any communication with the brand. Chick-fil-A then started working with Bitzer and ClickHere to get the word out about the fan page.

The effort began with the placement of a Facebook button on the company’s e-mail template in January, to create awareness among existing customers. Then, the brand ran its fifth annual event, “Cow Appreciation Day,” which offered store patrons a free meal if they arrived dressed as a cow on July 10.

The company also created a Facebook photo contest that received more than a thousand submissions and over 30,000 votes. And it set up a dedicated micro-site that mainly served as a landing page to drive people to the fan page, according to John Keehler, director of interactive strategy for ClickHere.

“The Facebook page really became the online hub for ‘Cow Appreciation Day,'” he said.

Meanwhile, both the microsite and a considerable amount of in-store print materials for the campaign included copy and a Facebook image to promote the fan page. The print materials involved table tents, counter cards, window clings, pole signs, and signage in the fast-food chain’s drive-thru lanes.

That promotion was followed up by a Labor Day event where people who wore their favorite football team’s gear got a free sandwich. Again, it involved Facebook mentions in-store, but it also received top billing in an e-mail campaign and appeared at the brand’s official site. By this time Chick-fil-A had also begun to use Twitter, and it promoted the account through e-mails to its opt-in list and other channels.

Since May, Chick-fil-A’s number of Facebook fans has increased from around 500,000 to more than 1.2 million. And the Twitter account accrued over 6,600 “followers” in the short time since its August launch.

Keehler said his team has used the increased social media presence to promote things like breakfast giveaways and grand openings of stores. “But it’s really been about grass-roots growth,” he said.

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