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Social engagement: High street food retailers are doing it wrong

Ten large brands are dominating social media food conversations, while many high street food retailers are failing to connect with customers.
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You have £20 in your pocket. You’re on the high street, and you’re hungry. How are you going to choose where to eat?

The answer to that question is being dominated by a few companies. Ten brands account for 96 per cent of all social media food conversations – Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Greggs, Nando’s, Ben & Jerry’s and Dominos. Most others are missing out because their websites are not optimised for social media, found a study of 85 of the UK’s leading food service brands, conducted by Visceral Business and Synthesio.

Some 40 per cent of high street food brands do not have their websites optimised for social and mobile engagement; 19 per cent are not connected to consumers via social media at all.

Others are highly distributed social brands. Starbucks have established a sophisticated brand architecture built on a diverse range of touch points within and across social media networks. Benugos outlets all have their own Facebook profile, placing local reputation first. And companies such as Leon and Jamie’s Italian may have a smaller social footprint overall, but a strong brand personality supported by the social media influence of the personal networks of their founders. Whether companies are consciously developing this is hard to tell. Being clear about what the strategy is, though, is an asset, so the research makes clear.

What’s interesting about the nature of the social food conversation is that, overwhelmingly, customers share their personal experience with a brand. Other attributes of conversation, connected more to brand, product and service features, score low. The brands, however, seem to be talking about product and service features more than they are in the business of connecting people around these food experiences.

Catriona Oldershaw, managing director UK of Synthesio, said: “77 per cent of people discussing these social food brands on the web are talking about the experience of eating, but many brands aren’t engaged in that conversation.

“The emphasis on mainly transactional activities and broadcasted promotional communication means that many brands aren’t engaging in the best ways that can help their businesses.”

Food service brands are perhaps acting as retailers rather than as hosts. But the level of conversation shows that despite the casual nature of much employment in food service staff turnover, and indirect licensing, people have an important part to play in the social food mix. A restaurant or branch manager skilled in developing networked influence is a vital link in a successful social brand network; and so are the key staff and customers that help build the brand reputation of the business and extend its reach through their own networks.

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