Social Content Helps Fast Food Brands Beat Stigma

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Current food trends point toward words like “organic” and “healthy,” and definitely not “fast.” Yet, fast food chains receive an awful lot of love on social media. Could great content be helping these chains overcome the stigma of fast food?

Burger King has more than 1 million followers on Twitter and sees a lot of engagement. A recent Tweet about National Cheeseburger Day garnered nearly 2,000 favorites and retweets; another Tweet with more of the burger chain’s regular humor on social media generated 26,000. Whataburger has similarly amusing Tweets with high engagement, though obviously on a smaller scale given the brand’s limited presence from Arizona to Florida.

“I’m not sure if longer term, people are going to forever overlook the fact that the food is not terribly healthy, but I think the brands have done a great job of connecting to the younger consumers who are on social media, who are developing their brand loyalty and brand attachment,” says Mark Frankel, executive creative director at branding consultancy Landor Associates. “I think great content helps them do that.”

Frankel names Taco Bell as another brand that fits into this trend. Last year, the chain temporarily blacked out all of its social accounts to promote a new mobile ordering app. Downloads skyrocketed almost immediately, landing Taco Bell in 14th place in the iOS App Store.

According to Frankel, moves like that create engagement because the consumers ultimately get the chance to feel like insiders. He compares this to the popularity of “secret menus” at places like McDonald’s, In-N-Out Burger and even Starbucks. (Word on the street is that McDonald’s – another brand whose social following is nothing to sneeze at, with more than 58 million Facebook likes and 897,000 Instagram followers – has a Land, Air and Sea Burger that combines a Big Mac, McChicken and Filet-O-Fish.)

“[Going to a fast food restaurant] is sort of this moment of joy, and it’s kind of about entertainment, and being social and sharing a meal with somebody,” Frankel says. “I think the fact that they cracked the voice in social media content is not by chance. For better or worse, fast food is very approachable and I think a lot of the elements of what it means to sit down and share a meal with your friends, [the brands] have put it together.”

Social media content is powerful enough that it can help shape these brands’ images. User-generated content around custom Snapchat filters also gave the struggling McDonald’s a brand lift among younger consumers. And though not exactly fast food, Denny’s, a staple of Tweets of the Week, is well-regarded for the content strategy behind its Millennial-friendly turnaround. So far, seven Tumblr users have proposed marriage to the diner.

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For Giordano Contestabile, chief executive of blog app Bloglovin’, Applebee’s is another brand that immediately comes to mind. Like Denny’s, Applebee’s isn’t exactly fast food, though it isn’t exactly not fast food, either. The chain is extremely active on social, tweeting every hour and earning thousands of likes for each Instagram post. Though Applebee’s doesn’t have an official Pinterest presence, the platform is full of boards dedicated to recreating its recipes at home.

Like Frankel, Contestabile doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that all these chains have such strong social. He thinks that by developing their own voices on the platforms, brands are able to better connect with consumers who in turn feel like they know the brands personally. He adds that those connections are particularly important when it comes to fast food, an industry that has been increasingly criticized in recent years.

“This kind of effort helps bridge the gap created by the health craze and keeps fast food brands in the game,” Contestabile says. “I think that informed consumers know that fast food isn’t particularly healthy when they choose to buy it. However, the digital presence these brands have create a strong relationship that emotionally overrides the health concern.”

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