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Chipotle replaces Taco Bell as top social brand

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

For the past two quarters, Taco Bell has held the Restaurant Social Media Index’s No. 1 spot on our Overall Top 250 list. The Live Mas brand unseated McDonald’s in Q1 2013. This quarter, however, several brands — including the No. 1 — have shifted. Chipotle took the top spot (up from No. 8 in Q2 2013) for the first time on the Overall Top 250.

How Brands Are Ranked

For those unfamiliar with the Restaurant Social Media Index, brands are tracked in three primary areas — influence, sentiment and engagement — throughout 17 social platforms. Each category is cross-referenced to a weighted scale and advanced Social Insights algorithm that provides a level playing field for all brands, big or small.

Aside from the Overall Top 250, the RSMI also tracks four other main components each quarter. For Top Mobile Brands, we filter mobile social transactions and look at how mobile interactions impact brand engagement. Top Social Sentiment focuses on consumer sentiment toward brands, and is based on our more than 134,ooo+ key industry terms revolving around food, service and overall brand. Location-Based Activity analyzes social ROI through density, frequency, return & refer, and sentiment from a location-based action. And finally, for Top Social Engagement, we analyze unsolicited engagement and peripheral engagement with extended conversations.

While the Index is always expanding, it currently tracks 7,310 brands, more than 53 million U.S. social restaurant consumers in more than 211,000 locations, and picks up a total of 134,770+ industry terms. Paul Barron, Founder of the Restaurant Social Media Index, said, “Our plan is to enhance the RSMI with highly targeted restaurant consumers. We estimate the critical mass within the U.S. is somewhere around 85 million people. Globally, we think the RSMI could reach 150 million restaurant consumers.”

If you haven’t submitted your restaurant brand to the U.S. Index yet, you can do so here. We are also now accepting submissions for the upcoming U.K. Index, which you’ll find here.

Top 10 Restaurant Brands

1. Chipotle: Chipotle’s Scarecrow video, which rolled out in Q3 and went viral in its first week, received tons of controversial buzz. It currently stands at 7.2 million views. Also on Chipotle’s Q3 digital forefront was the brand’s Adventurrito campaign, a tribute to the brand’s 20th Anniversary that included a series of treasure hunt puzzles and allowed players to be one of 20 contestants selected to win free burritos for the next 20 years.  The promo leading up to this campaign included a fake hack of the brand’s Twitter profile, which Chipotle later revealed was their own doing. They were clearly doing something right because a brand rep later reported that Chipotle gained 4K followers that day. All of this hype, paired with the brand’s overall message of sustainability, is what creates not only loyal fans, but fans that engage. Twitter followers: 274K+   Facebook fans: 2.1 million+

2. Wendy’s: Wendy’s has been a silent threat, sustaining its place in the Top 3 for the past five quarters. The fast food brand has gone through a lot of rebranding over the past year, including a ramp up on social, digital and mobile. Its most recent campaign is a crowdsourced (#PretzelLoveStories) video promoting Wendy’s beloved Pretzel Pub Chicken sandwich. This type of innovative, user-generated marketing for new products — flatbread sandwiches and pretzel bacon cheeseburger among them — married with a mobile presence that includes mobile ordering, payments and nutritional information for all menu items, is probably why the brand continues to rank so high overall. Twitter followers: 491K+   Facebook fans: 4.4 million+

3. Taco Bell: Taco Bell has been rocking the digital frontier this year, but it seems that other big brands are catching up with innovation, pushing the Live Mas brand down a couple notches. As Tressie Lieberman, Taco Bell’s Director of Digital & Social Marketing, said at this year’s first annual Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit, TB takes a different approach to digital and mobile strategy by treating customers like friends. This makes sense considering the brand recently started connecting with fans on Snapchat, an intimate photo sharing app. What keeps this brand on top? Probably its real-time social strategy, which leads to awesome user-generated campaigns like this. Twitter followers: 880K+ Facebook fans: 10 million+

4. Starbucks

5. McDonald’s

6. Buffalo Wild Wings

7. Subway

8. Hard Rock Cafe

9. Sonic Drive-In

10. Jimmy John’s

As you can see, what connects with consumers are a variety of elements: Interactive marketing components, especially video and gamification, are highly effective and engaging. Overall, the common thread in the top social brands, however, is the ability to take risks and remain real-time. The most important focus when it comes to social should be on building relationships with your customers in innovative ways. This includes listening to what they have to say.

Jessica Bryant is a digital brand analyst for DigitalCoCo and leads research for the Social Insights platform. DigitalCoCo is the leading firm for social consumer research and digital brand development for the restaurant and hospitality business. Bryant is a seasoned researcher with a specialty toward consumer trends and culture shifts in the restaurant business