Social Media Survival Stories

Social Media Survival Stories

Food & Drink

Social Media Survival Stories


My favorite way to start a Saturday is to eat a full breakfast that I didn’t have to cook myself. So I was eager to accept an invitation to attend the NRA Restaurant Executive Breakfast Saturday morning.

Andy Sernovitz, leading “Word of Mouth Marketing” expert and author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking, Revised Edition, moderated a panel of chain & multi-unit operators, including:

Sims Foster, corporate director of restaurants and bars, “Denihan Hospitality Group”:;

Margie Myers, senior vice president of communications, “Dunkin’ Brands”:;

Brad Wahl, vice president, marketing, “The Krystal Company”:;

Billy Dec, president/partner, Rockit Ranch Productions, and

William Whitman, Jr., senior vice president, communications, McDonald’s USA.

Andy started off the session with the advice that we need to give people a reason to talk about us and make it easier for the conversation to take place. ‘Happy customers are your best ad.’ Then each panelist talked about his or her perspective on social media (or the new buzz term = ‘word of mouth marketing’) and how they used it to be successful, or in some cases, survive.

Margie said that Dunkin’ has been on Twitter since October of 2008, so relatively recently. Their intent with the microblog site is to deepen their communication and expand a connection with their brand community. Margie went on to say that they’ve learned some great lessons along the way.

1. Early adoption can make a difference, but not always in a positive way

2. Select your Twitterer with care. You need someone who gets the brand, is a great writer, and can be conversational in their communication

3. Get comfortable with uncertainty. You never know what to expect, but rest assured, social media is not going away.

Brad Wahl talked about how Krystal Burgers is a small regional brand that hosted a World Hamburger Eating Championship in order to build a community of loyal followers. The idea came from their very first Krystal customer. It’s part of their brand culture to pride yourself on how many of these addictive little Krystals you can eat. The competition has the whole pomp and circumstance with a parade and the ‘lighting of the grill’, etc. Brad went on to talk about three ideas that they’ve initiated to continue building momentum on this event:

1. They’ve built a website that enables 2-way communication

2. They’ve enable customer celebrations through their packaging Hall of Fame. (Customers can have their picture put on the box packaging.)

3. They’ve engaged in interactive/engagement marketing through Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.

Billy Dec reminded us that social media is not a new thing. He equated it to his start as a nightclub doorman who shook everyone’s hand and remembered names of everyone that walked through the door, thus building a community of regular customers. He stated that it’s all about building relationships with your customers, whether online or off.

Bill Whitman told us about a promotional website they built called It centered on the old chicken or egg adage. Their communication plan included:

⋅ Man on the street interviews
⋅ Viral outreach
⋅ Street team activation
⋅ National Dance Like a Chicken Day (which by the way, already existed but Bill felt it appropriate to capitalize on it)
⋅ Employee Activation, called Station M

So according to Bill, your PR arsenal needs to include internal communications, media relations, experience, stakeholder engagement, field support and word of mouth social media.

Sims reminded us that we must be authentic, organic and strategic. It’s important to listen first. He gave us a great analogy of the approach we all take at a cocktail party. We don’t just jump in on a conversation. We first listen and then find a window of opportunity where we can integrate ourselves in. And we always ensure that we speak we bring in credibility and add value to the conversation that we join.

All in all, I thought that the group had some very compelling points on how to navigate the social landscape and shared some great learning experiences. I was glad I went and I ate my fair share of a breakfast that I didn’t have to cook myself . . . bonus.

Story from Guest Blogger Valeri Lea.


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