What makes Ben & Jerry’s so good at social?

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According to a new report analyzing restaurant chains’ social, Ben & Jerry’s is the best, despite its comparatively smaller size. What’s the brand doing right?

Ben & Jerry’s has the best social media presence of any U.S. restaurant chain, according to a new report by social media analytics platform NetBase.

The Social Media Industry Report 2016: Restaurant Brands analyzed 100 different chains in three different categories: quick service (McDonald’s, Subway), fast casual (Chipotle, Panera Bread), and casual dining (Applebee’s, Denny’s). They were judged across all the major social platforms, based on reach, mentions, the ratio of positive to negative sentiments, and passion intensity, which refers to the strength of language.

Ben & Jerry’s is a relatively small chain compared to some of the study’s giants, like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chipotle and Taco Bell. Far more conversation surrounds those brands than Ben & Jerry’s – which ranked 22nd in mentions – but the Vermont ice creamery placed first when NetBase weighted conversation volume related to sales revenue.

For that reason, Paige Leidig, chief marketing officer at NetBase, was surprised by Ben & Jerry’s’ high score. But once he thought about it, he agreed that it made sense.

“They’ve generally been on the cutting edge with respect to environmental causes, they’re good to their employees and new ice cream flavors come out on the recommendations of customers. All those things together results in a strong following,” says Leidig.

Not only did Ben & Jerry’s place first, but the brand did so by a fairly wide margin: 5,627 mentions per dollar in sales. That’s 39 percent higher than second-place Chipotle’s score and nearly double than that of Starbucks, despite the coffee giant’s cultlike following.

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“What [bigger brands can learn from Ben & Jerry’s] is that size doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s about really knowing your audience and using why they think you’re different and incorporating that into your engagement with them,” says Leidig. “Ben & Jerry’s has also done a really good job of identifying who their advocates are and engaging with them.”

Ben & Jerry’s owes its social success to a few different factors: keeping social in-house, for one. Having a small team that lives and breathes social, rather than waiting for reports from an agency that will have other clients, allows for greater intimacy and keeps the brand on top of its various channels all the time.

Another tactic is the same multilingual approach M&M’s uses. Each platform is treated separately. And they all have their own individual strengths, according to Kate Paine, digital marketing manager at Ben & Jerry’s, when asked which platform works best for the brand.

“It depends on what metric we’re using. If we’re talking about reach and engagement, Facebook is our workhorse. If you’re talking about activism work and engaging with our NGO partners and our fans, Twitter is obviously great for that,” says Paine, adding that it comes back to knowing her audience, as Leidig said.

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“We do a lot with social mission-driven campaigns on Twitter, but we’ll be really light with that on Instagram,” adds Paine. “People just want ice cream porn on Instagram and that’s what we tend to do.”

The brand also got on Snapchat fairly recently. Its audience isn’t nearly as big as some of the others – 14,000 people, as opposed to 645,000 on Instagram, 8.2 million on Facebook, and 306,000 on Twitter – though its Stories do see a 90 percent completion rate.

What else does Ben & Jerry’s do that far too many other brands don’t? Responds to people on social, “as soon as possible,” which is where that in-house social team comes in handy. Especially on Free Cone Day, the brand’s annual thanksgiving celebration.

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Many of the brands NetBase analyzed had one particular thing that drove disproportionately high positive sentiment. For McDonald’s, it was all-day breakfast; in the case of Ben & Jerry’s, Free Cone Day contributed heavily to the brand’s net sentiments, which were among the highest in the study.

“It’s by far our biggest spike,” says Paine, adding that more than 11,000 people tweeted the #FreeConeDay hashtag. “This year, we also worked that spike when Ben and Jerry got arrested. We put something up and it immediately crashed the website.”

For more, see our new ClickZ Intelligence Social Customer Service Best Practice Guide

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