Digital Innovator of the Year Nominees Released!

The RIZMYs

In two weeks, the red carpet rolls out for the most prestigious, forward-thinking social and digital media innovators. The first annual RIZMY Awards, taking place in Phoenix on September 24th at the Foodservice Digital Marketing Summit, will go down in history as being the premier awards ceremony dedicated to those rocking social and digital strategy in the foodservice industry.

Nominees have just been released for Digital Innovator of the Year, one of the eight RIZMY Awards, and it's a hot list of competitors. We give you the first look at which brands made the list after the jump.

How It's Measured 

The Digital Innovator of the Year is based on overall innovations and efforts by a brand, individual or company that has helped advance best practices in digital and social media efforts for the restaurant business. Innovations considered for this award are the engagement of specific digital and social programs, and any best practice or breakthrough introduced by the brand.

Each nominee has a minimum of two innovations or programs that qualify them for the award. Nominees are then measured by consumer sentiment and engagement on the specific area of innovation or best practice. Campaigns, executive direction, platform excellence, or real-time social and digital performance are eligible for consideration.

The Nominees 

Without further ado, we present (in no specific order) the nominees for the 2013 Digital Innovator of the Year:

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  • AJ Bombers: As the leader in best practices for small operations, and looked to as the platform innovator of Twitter for the restaurant business, Bombers and Joe Sorge single-handedly brought social media to reality for small operators.

  • Shake Shack: As a mobile engaged brand and top sentiment placement among the Better Burger segment, Shake Shack is driving consumer love to their brand primarily through the use of digital and social tactics.

  • Applebee's: A leader in innovation for franchisee operations, and seen as one of the most creative brands in digital and social, Applebee's is raising the bar on each new idea they are bringing to the market in digital and social media promotion.

  • Taco Bell: Several major hits for Taco Bell in social and viral impact on consumers has placed this brand at the top of consideration for this Innovator award. Live Más and other major efforts this year have transcended the brand in the digital and social space.

  • Firehouse Subs: Firehouse Subs continues to drive the needle forward on digital engagement and innovation for new ideas around mobile and video to match step with the brand's audience and customers. Firehouse is expected to break into the big leagues very soon with massive guest and fan digital and social adoption.

  •  Red Mango: The small brand that could and would not be denied, various efforts - from the elusive Honey Badger flavor to the use of Instagram, boasting a frenzy of fan photos - have propelled this brand to the top of consideration.

  • Buffalo Wild Wings: BWW is breaking many rules around engagement and how to reach fans. Sports-based strategies in social is not new, but the heavy increase of engagement with their fans is nothing to take lightly. BWW has risen faster than any other brand in platform effectiveness in the past year.

  •  Jimmy John's: This brand is taking social very seriously, with a massive growth in platforms on social; they seem to be looking to the future of where their fans will be. Skating to where the puck is versus following it seems to be their strong suit.

  • McDonald's: It's tough to 'one up' anyone when you already have almost 30 million Facebook fans. The real power behind this giant is the impact in social that they yield. Though McD's trails Starbucks in actual Facebook fans by over 5 million, McDonalds' overall social ecosystem reaches more than 70 million, which dwarfs the other category leaders.

  •  Starbucks: As the reigning platform champions of both Facebook and Twitter, Starbucks holds the edge on reaching more consumers on a daily basis via social and digital than any other retail restaurant brand in the business. Approaching the 40 million mark is a new milestone for this brand, and they could be on a new strategy to start the conversion process to a new social network of their own on over 30% of the primary wage earners in the U.S.

  • Chick-fil-A: Despite PR issues this past year, Chick-fil-A continues to soar in consumer love, in both brand and food sentiment. The brand is the fastest growth brand in engagement over the past year and is considered to be standard for social media adoption by middle America. 

  • Sonic Drive-In: A little late to the digital and social media growth charts in 2012-2013, Sonic has bolted up the rankings in the RSMI with a new clearing vision of what digital marketing means to the business. Now with one of the fastest growing social audiences (and one of the youngest), they are set to reach a blistering pace in 2014. 

  • Red Robin: Red Robin is beginning the process of leading the casual dining sector in social and digital efforts with heavy consumer adoption rates and massive growth in location-based actions. Red Robin is changing the marketing model they have employed over the past decade to a more nimble casual restaurant brand. 

  •  Sweetgreen: Taking the steps to build a brand with a cult following is a process that has been proven by brands like Chipotle and Starbucks, but few have actually achieved this status. Sweetgreen has taken an approach that propels them as a lifestyle brand, and one that is breaking some rules with their music festival Sweetlife, an approach to new market development. 

  • Smashburger: The Better Burger darling, and doing it with a local level approach to influencers and social media targeting, is placing this brand atop the digital and social stack. With new innovations in craft beer connections to local communities, this Smashburger is set to dominate the local markets in social and digital.

  • AmRest:  As the international contender for the Innovator of the Year award, AmRest is on a blistering pace of growth, nearing 700 units worldwide. Managing several digital brands across a dozen countries puts them on track to create the model of digital best practices for the international restaurant organization.

  •  Chipotle: The leading fast casual concept is pushing the boundaries of ideas and transparency through digital and social. They continue to knock down a variety of barriers for the consumer in engagement and education using the power of digital as their main vehicle.

  • Pizza Hut: Talk about moving the needle! This brand is making waves in digital engagement with one of the fastest growing social ecosystems compared to the more than 6,000 brands that we track in the RSMI. Digital ecosystem growth is the next era in new guest acquisition, and Pizza Hut has a strategy that is dominating the undervalued digital asset.

  • Bonefish Grill: The underdog of the monoliths of digital performance, Bonefish Grill continues to balance digital tactics with fan love and fun to achieve some very high rankings in the RSMI. Because of their consistent Top 250 rankings, they are showing signs that may lead them to major profit lifts in the next year.
  •  Wingstop: This brand is taking it to the streets with digital and social advocates as one of their key attributes. With one of the most influential audiences in social, Wingstop is climbing the charts at a local level of social and digital love.