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Social media insight from NRA Show 2012

4 min read


Revolution of the restaurant industry has begun as the sector takes its first step toward fully embracing social media in the way that it should — with open arms. The big story from NRA Show 2012 was not about products, services, education or solutions. It was about a complete overhaul of digital human interaction that resulted in measurable action for the restaurant business.

The digital and social underground was hotter than ever at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. DigitalCoCo and Social Insights drove the engine, tracking this amazing shift.

As we began preparing for the show many months ago, our goal was daunting: We would apply our consumer- and brand-tracking technology and methods, which we use in publishing the Restaurant Social Media Index, to the whole show and its participants, treating trends, education sessions and speakers as consumer trends, and treating exhibitors and attendees as brands, each of which would have its unique message to discuss. Our partnership with NRA was the key to successfully executing a complete social analysis of the show as it interacted with the more than 58,000 industry professionals from more than 100 countries, connecting with 1,800 exhibitors.

With 114 educational sessions and several hundred speakers involved, we developed a strategic distribution plan for relevant content that generated an astonishing volume of retweets, Facebook shares, +1’s and even video and Instagram content. Like any great conversation, when you add valuable fuel to the fire, it only burns hotter, and that is exactly what happened at the show. Working from our own Social Insights Command Center, our nine-person team was on top of every aspect.

We also tracked more than 2,400 industry terms within more than 8,000 terms overall across all major social platforms. Such data revealed remarkable show trends and attendee interests, plus a whole lot more. Armed with this insight, our partners will have an even bigger and more powerful presence at next year’s show. But the real picture of this massive shift for the restaurant business is the trends and mindsets that are streaming in from more than 15,000 crowdsourced participants across the globe.

As we sift through more than 25 terabytes of data collected in our 12-day run, sentiment analytics, trend research, and activity- and influence-growth patterns are developing into an intriguing portrait. I believe that we will uncover some exciting industry directives from this initiative; our plans are to delve into what this could mean for the restaurant business.

The big picture, by the numbers

The overall social-engagement sentiment of the 2012 show scored an A+, with a ranking of 99.1 out of 100 in leading interest areas such as equipment and digital and social media products; beverage products also came in high in overall attendee topic engagement.

The restaurant business is being globalized, as more participants began dialogue in ways that only social media allow. With representatives of more than 100 countries in attendance at the show, understanding engagement by country proved highly interesting as we discovered that some aspects of engagement aligned with social media hotspots, such as the U.K., Brazil and Canada.

Perhaps the most compelling insight that emerged was the level of interaction around the host city of Chicago: Approximately 200 restaurants, bars and hotels were tracked, and an additional 350 were mentioned in social platforms. The overall reach of social interaction around these venues was exceptionally powerful, with more than 46,000 location-based activities occurring during the four days of the show. Being social in the restaurant business can be tracked, to real return on investment, as it relates to specific events as well as restaurant brand programs. This is the same methodology we use every day to track effectiveness of marketing and operations to build and improve our restaurant clients’ businesses.

The end result is a show that has come of age in the digital and social revolution. But perhaps more important is the knowledge that attendees, operators and suppliers stepped up their game in understanding how to use social media. What this reveals is that the next level of restaurant industry intelligence — how we predict the future of our business — can include crowdsourcing the best ideas in the restaurant space to solve industry challenges and fuel innovation, which we think translates to even more restaurant industry growth.

Paul Barron is a Web entrepreneur who launched several successful restaurant and hospitality trade websites, events and think tanks. He is credited with starting the fast-casual restaurant revolution when he launched in the 1990s. He is the author of “The Chipotle Effect” and the founder of DigitalCoCo, a social media analytics and creative agency in South Florida.

Image credit: Digital Coco