What Makes Starbucks, Subway and Buffalo Wild Wings so Lovable?

Navigating through today’s digital world continues to become more difficult as more consumers use social media to voice their concerns. A billion-dollar restaurant brand with millions of followers is going to get thousands of opinionated responses from just one social post. As expected, the highly scrutinized digital movements of restaurant brands are going to be equally highly criticized.

So, what brands are the top dogs in this digital space? And how are their consumers perceiving them on social? Through our extensive Restaurant Social Media Index, we have dissected and analyzed the Top 100 Most Loved Restaurant Brands. Our analysis has mined social metrics for roughly 10,800 restaurant entities and 121 million social restaurant consumers. This is important because these consumers contribute to more than 2 billion location-based actions that represent more than 13 billion in industry revenue. From this big data, we were able to determine which restaurant brands are performing the highest -- or, as we like to say, are “the most loved brands.”

A Coffee Giant, Sandwich King, and a Sport’s Bar and Grill Round out the Top Three

It's no surprise that the brand with the leading mobile app is No.1. The Starbucks mobile payment app accounts for 16 percent of the brand’s transactions. The app usage just continues to grow -- totaling 13 million users today. The brand also has been testing mobile ordering in Portland, and announced this month that this will be expanding to three more states: Washington, Idaho and Alaska. And Starbucks did not stop there. They then announced that they would be partnering with Postmates for coffee delivery in NYC and and Seattle.

Recent Twitter post by Starbucks rewards  | @starbucksgold

Recent Twitter post by Starbucks rewards | @starbucksgold

But, no brand is perfect and is bound to make some mistakes on the way. For example, in the Fall of 2014, Starbucks had preliminarily decided not to offer their Eggnog Latte to simplify their menu. This was not well received by customers and they made that clear on social media outlets. But in record time, the brand immediately brought back the beloved latte.

This was not the first time that the brand had reacted quickly to consumer complaints. Last spring, the brand started selling miniature loaves of their lemon and pumpkin bread, but quickly switched back to the preferred slices after a social media uproar from their customers.

The brand continued to make headlines this month when they launched the “Race Together” campaign, which was launched to promote discussions of race at the coffee shop. This evidently was a major mistake and become a PR nightmare for the brand. After being highly criticized by their customers, the campaign was put to an end after only a week. However, the proactive and quick way that Starbucks responds to their follower’s concerns is one of the ways that the brand validates their customers and continues to create a strong loyal consumer relationship.

A Social Voice that Resonates with Consumers

Subway's recent tweet featuring a video with a man in a sandwich covered sweatshirt  | @SUBWAY

Subway's recent tweet featuring a video with a man in a sandwich covered sweatshirt | @SUBWAY

The No. 2 restaurant brand is also a quick-serve giant. Say hello to Subway. Subway engages their customers in a playful manner that they evidently respond rather well to. The brand’s social voice is comical with tweets like “*walks into Subway* *sees Simple $6 Menu* *reaches into pocket* *makes rain six dollars*” paired with a video of a man in a sweatshirt covered in sandwiches while he makes the dollar bills “rain.” The brand even sent these sandwich covered sweatshirts to some of their customers, who have shared photos of themselves wearing the sweatshirts.

Besides appealing to their target demographic through playful language, Subway has strategically selected pop culture references to align the brand with and uses social media to promote their many partnerships, including Taylor Swift & Diet Coke, The Muppets and Project Runway.

Although the brand’s digital tactics have proven to be effective, their plan for store growth has also attributed to their massive success. The Subway stores continue to spread with 43,772 restaurants in 110 countries. The brand strategically opens these stores often in nontraditional restaurant venues, such as colleges, sports arenas, airports and hospitals.

An Interactive Dining Experience

When a consumer thinks of Buffalo Wild Wings, they probably think about large TV screens playing sports, tabletop tablets with games, beer and wings. This casual-dining mogul has created an interactive dining experience that their customers can’t seem to get enough of.

But, enhancing the social experience for customers doesn’t stop at the dinner table. With the brand’s large Twitter following, BWW continues to engage customers with social contests, such as #FansForMoreFootball, where their followers have a chance to appear in a BWW video by tweeting why they love football.

Recent #wingwisdom Tweet by BWW  | @BWWINGS

Recent #wingwisdom Tweet by BWW | @BWWINGS

Lately, the brand has been Tweeting #wingwisdom, which are facts about the current sports season. And the BWW experience continues at home where customers can join their recent March Madness games on their B-dubs Game Break website, an online sports center for their loyal following.

So there you have it -- the top three restaurant brands from the Top 100 Most Loved Brands report. As the digital space continues to get more crowded, the success of restaurant brands will rely more so on how they engage, build and market to their loyal following through these social strategies.