The secrets behind Denny’s successful social media strategy

Here’s a hint: Bacon, pop culture and a hint of humor go a long way.

If you think Denny’s is a place to take grandma for the dinner buffet, think again. The restaurant chain is reinventing itself with a sassy social media strategy.

Denny’s has embraced consumers with an invigorated social media strategy, serving up a buffet of shareable, bacon-fueled content (with a helping of pop culture zeitgeist).

Creating an experience worth sharing

Companies have long looked to social media to connect with customers. The challenge is creating content and experiences worth sharing—and showing a return on investment.

Denny’s has proven through Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and other channels that breakfast can be a surprisingly compelling topic.

“One of the things we try to do is feed people what they want when they want it,” explains Kevin Purcer, senior vice president of digital strategy at Erwin Penland, leader of Denny’s social team. “It’s why we are open 24 hours, and why we have such a large selection of customizable menu items.

“We really try and live that same ethos in social,” says Purcer, “and feeding people what they want when they want it requires us to be in the conversation when it is happening.”

Denny’s Twitter feed reads like a reference guide of entertainment and industry events: characters from ABC’s “Scandal” replaced by bacon, Jack Bauer leaping a breakfast counter to fight Russian bad guys, and in a clever spoof of Apple’s acquisition of Beats by Dre, Denny’s reports, “BREAKING: Denny’s Buys Beets for $3 Billion, Makes Huge Salad.”

BREAKING: Denny’s Buys Beets for $3 Billion, Makes Huge Salad

Instead of calls to action and campaign codes, Denny’s social media content riffs on Lil Jon song lyrics and the World Cup, and asks people to “click the link below” by showing a picture of a sausage link. (See what they did there?)

click the link below pic.twitter.com/RSrQBlb4Hl

Purcer says Denny’s aims to “bring the experience of a diner booth to life online.” Whether you’re visiting the diner for an early breakfast or late-night run, sharing a fun experience with friends and family isn’t complete without some actual fun and edgy references.

Mashed potatoes and mash-ups

Denny’s Tumblr site offers a stream of shareable pop culture riffs, mashed up—”hashed up” perhaps?—with bacon, sausage, hash browns and the rest of the breakfast menu.

Notable events like Shark Week and the San Diego Comic Con receive the Denny’s treatment with animated GIFs alongside topical references to Kickstarter, nursery rhymes, the Atari 2600, Doctor Who and more.

But has this youthful, edgy presence brought in more diners, increased revenue or affected other metrics?

“We are working towards measuring the impact of our approach on sales, evaluating different methods of incorporating social into attribution modeling,” Purcer explains. “We try to understand how it is affecting the brand: does our social audience have a higher favorability, willingness to recommend, etc.?”

Denny’s may not have measurement mechanisms in place yet, but it believes there’s value in social media and content marketing. “We believe at our core that social has the ability to impact brand health as much as any other medium,” says Purcer.

Data show the infusion of bacon and humor has had strong, positive results. Twitter and Tumblr followers have doubled and tripled, respectively, in less than a year.

In addition to drawing new followers and interacting with customers by sharing user-generated content, Denny’s has also shared laughs with other brands. A recent Twitter exchange found the Denny’s gang arguing with NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” team over which is better: waffles or pancakes.


No doubt, Ron Swanson monitored this debate with great interest.

Hashteroids

When Denny’s spoofed the Atari arcade classic “Asteroids” with “Hashteroids,” (and an image of a ketchup bottle shooting hash browns), perhaps Denny’s expected some retweets from 40-somethings who recall playing the game.

But as great brands do, Atari responded personally. Soon enough, a collaboration ignited.

“That post inspired a full partnership with Atari in conjunction with our Greatest Hits Remixed menu module that launched this summer,” recalls Purcer. “We created merchandising, digital ads and even three real mobile game remixes of classic Atari titles—all with a Denny’s spin, of course.”

Social media history is littered with brands desperate to cater to young audiences, either with awkward pop-culture references, ill-conceived hashtags or both. But never has a brand been so deliciously devoted to its audience without constantly hammering followers with trademarked product names or scheduled posts reminding them to consume and obey.

Denny’s approach is to share the same content you’d share while waiting for your Grand Slam.

Purcer says Denny’s social media goal is “to make people love us and make them hungry.”

Marketers are always looking for ways to make content enticing, engaging and irresistible. In Denny’s case, you can’t ask for a better secret weapon than bacon—except more bacon.

feeling down? have a bacon. *cradles you like a newborn while you eat a bacon*

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also the instructional design manager of enterprise training at MarketingProfs. Find her on Google+ and Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on {grow}.

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