BY Meredith Mason
New Media Writing Class
With millions of customers and hundreds of locations around the United States, large chain restaurants often struggle to create a personal atmosphere where patrons can be heard. The Cheesecake Factory and Longhorn Steakhouse have put their companies on Facebook with the hopes of eliminating this impersonal stereotype, and generate a space for customers to feel involved in the heart of their corporations. Each company has a huge following (The Cheesecake Factory at 3.3 million followers and Longhorn Steakhouse at half a million followers). Their audiences consist of middle class families who are looking for quality food at a reasonable price. While both restaurant pages have successfully created a space for communication between corporate and customer, The Cheesecake Factory does a more efficient job at engaging their followers with dynamic responses to posts, composing interactive postings of their own and sharing the stories of their customers.
Social media has created an entirely new definition for word-of-mouth marketing. In today’s world of online social networks, consumers can have “numerous conversations with potentially thousands or millions of people at once” (Kerpen 6). The followers of The Cheesecake Factory take full advantage of the opportunity to post their opinions of the restaurant for all to see. The company receives hourly posts that include great reviews, questions, as well as the negative experiences of customers. Previously, these complaints would have only been dealt with in privacy between the customer and management team. Thanks to social media however, these complaints are now made public for millions of people to read. It is obvious that the Cheesecake Factory takes these posts very seriously since the operators of the page always respond on the same day that the comments are posted. This immediate response is key, according to Kerpen, as well as the apology in the reply stating, “We are sorry you had this experience.” This apology is not admitting guilt, but rather taking the initial step to show that the company is listening. In addition to the apology, the Facebook page operators tell the customer that someone will be in touch with them soon, or direct them to the necessary contact person. In addition to responding to negative comments, the Cheesecake Factory also makes an effort to comment on positive posts. Whether it is wishing a customer a happy birthday, saying thank you for sharing, or simply liking a mobile upload, it is clear that the company values the positive feedback just as much as the negative.
With over 3 million Facebook followers, the Cheesecake Factory is doing something right to keep their followers on their page. From the moment a Facebook user clicks on the page, it is clear that there is an emotional connection between the Cheesecake Factory and their customers. The majority of their posts ask followers to share a photo, or answer a question. According to Kerpen, asking questions can help guide the social media conversation without appearing forceful. For example, on February 9th, The Cheesecake Factory posted, “True or False: Cheesecake makes any Saturday waaay better,” along with a photo of cheesecake. Over 37,000 people liked the post, 1,900 commented on the post and 2,800 people shared the post. The company did not blatantly ask their followers to “like” or “share” this, they just responded because they were approached like they were talking to a friend. The majority of their question-based posts receive the same, if not more feedback. The most impressive thing about the Cheesecake Factory’s Facebook page is the number of shares they get on their posts. Even though it is useful to see that people comment or like photos and questions, sharing ensures that all of their own friends will see the post on their page, which could turn into them “liking” The Cheesecake Factory.
The ultimate tribute to the Cheesecake Factory’s followers is their “fan of the month” tab located right under the cover photo. According to Kerpen, this is not only a great way to give recognition to fans, but also a way to share their story with others. Most likely, the fan of the month will share the post on their page, increasing the amount of traffic the photo gets. The Cheesecake Factory’s “fan of the month” tab displays the local Cheesecake Factory closest to the winner, their favorite cheesecake, favorite menu item, and most importantly, a testimony to why they love The Cheesecake Factory. The responses are answered in the first person, which provides authenticity that the words are right from the mouth of the customer. These personal stories from customers provide marketing value that could never be replicated by The Cheesecake Factory’s management.
When customers write negative posts on the Facebook wall of Longhorn Steakhouse, the company uses the same tactics to respond as The Cheesecake Factory does. All of the comments are responded to within twenty-four hours, and the operators of the Facebook page provide apology. Even though there are the inevitable negative comments, many followers post positive feedback, or questions that they have about the restaurants. Longhorn Steakhouse however, ignores the majority of these comments. Kerpen stresses the importance of not only saying, “we’re sorry”, but also saying “Thank you.” These responses provide a great opportunity to share the brand personality of the company. By only sending a generic response to negative comments, it is hard for followers to see what Longhorn Steakhouse is really all about. To followers, it looks like the company is more focused on the negative, rather than the positive.
Although Longhorn Steakhouse has advanced their marketing tactics by setting up a Facebook page, the company has not changed the way that they talk to their customers. The majority of Longhorn’s Facebook posts look like advertisements. For example, on February 4th, the Facebook operators wrote, “Our Steakhouse Dinner for two is back,” along with a photo. The “talking at you” posts that Longhorn uses to update their page could be a reason why their following is almost a quarter of the size of the Cheesecake Factory. In order to grab the attention of current and future followers, Longhorn Steakhouse needs to ask questions. According to Kerpen, “Questions build an emotional connection between you and the consumer, and they generate conversations about your customers’ pain points, problems and needs” (Kerpen 120). If Longhorn Steakhouse can create an emotional connection to their Facebook followers, the relationship has a better chance for long-term survival.
Unlike the Cheesecake Factory, the Longhorn Steakhouse could improve on sharing the stories of not only their company, but the stories of their customers. On January 17th, the company made a status update about how they were recently named as one of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for. Although this is really valuable news to share with their customers, it is just a fact. They could have instead shared some stories about their employees, or business that made this recognition possible. In addition, Longhorn should make more of an effort to share the stories of their customers. They do not necessarily need a fan of the month page like The Cheesecake Factory, but Longhorn could use other tactics such as creating a contest, or change the way that they converse with their followers. Rewarding customers with simple responses to positive comments could encourage others to share their great stories in the future.
Facebook has given The Cheesecake Factory and Longhorn Steakhouse the opportunity to reach millions of people that they would not have had access to in the past. Although both companies are utilizing many of the tips in Likeable Social Media, they must continue to develop as Facebook changes. The Cheesecake Factory and Longhorn Steakhouse can continue to grow as long as their customer outreach on social media progresses.