IHOP Scores Big on Twitter, But Still Doesn’t Join

“IHOP,” which used to stand for International House of Pancakes, has been a top worldwide trending topic on Twitter for the past two days, reaching as high as number three on Tuesday morning. Driving the attention was apparent coast-to-coast enthusiasm for the chain’s fifth annual National Pancake Day (IHOP gives away pancakes all day on February 23, and asks that customers make a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network in return).

IHOP’s success on Twitter shows how a brand can turn a social network into a marketing channel without necessarily becoming part of it – something plenty of brands are still hesitant to do. But it also raises questions about what IHOP is missing out on by viewing the chatter about its brand solely as a bystander.

“At this point it’s just not been part of our strategy to have a Twitter feed,” Jennifer Pendergrass, IHOP manager of communications, said. “We are just kind of still testing the waters as far as getting a feel for social media. We are on Facebook right now.”

How National Pancake Day became a trending topic on Twitter is not hard to understand. For years the chain and its PR firm, Wills Communications in El Segundo, CA, have waged an aggressive media campaign to support National Pancake Day. They pitch parenting blogs, sites that focus on giveaways, and even general interest blogs like The Huffington Post, which today ran “A User’s Guide for National Pancake Day” (basically a link-heavy recipe for pancakes).

Viral elements have crept into the campaign in recent years as well. Visitors to the official National Pancake Day Web site could schedule wake-up calls for themselves or friends on the morning of the promotion. IHOP has used its Facebook Page to promote the day relentlessly to its nearly 75,000 fans, frequently posting stories on how the “holiday” benefits local charities. It is also taking advantage of its partnership with the Miss America Pageant by sharing pictures of beautiful women wearing tiaras and eating plates of pancakes, or at least holding them.

The only part of the campaign actually geared at Twitter was a “share this” button on the promotion’s home page, which sent a generic tweet alerting others to National Pancake Day and a link back to the home page – though evidence that anyone was using that button was hard to come by on Tuesday.

Still, combined with the public’s natural enthusiasm for free food and pancakes, the various elements produced enough buzz to make IHOP the most tweeted-about brand of the week so far.

“We were hoping for that,” said Pendergrass. She was not able to answer specific questions about IHOP’s Twitter presence this week (how high did it trend today? Were the mentions predominantly positive or negative?), but she did say that her team was “keeping an eye on” it.

But was IHOP missing an opportunity to engage with excited customers on Twitter? Not necessarily, said Pendergrass.

“Obviously people are coming into our restaurants today and having those interactions with our employees,” she said. “We certainly through our Facebook page can interact with our guests, and then obviously with our restaurants, over 1,400 restaurants, that’s an advantage that some people don’t have with Twitter.”

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