Facebook marketing case study: Buffalo Wild Wings

November 24, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing

Written by former LiveWorld employee, @BryanPerson.
If your business or brand is developing its Facebook marketing and engagement plan, the Buffalo Wild Wings Facebook Page is a case study worth checking out.
In an outstanding presentation at last week’s 2010 WOMMA Summit, Paul Fresher, director of media for the restaurant/sports bar chain Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW), and Brandon Murphy, chief  strategy director at the interactive agency 22squared, explained how the Page had evolved into a hub of online discussion around the brand over the past 15 months, jumping from 100,000 fans in August 2009 to more than 3.5 million today.
BWW’s Facebook strategy, Murphy explained, is to “extend the social experience outside of the restaurant,” and the brand uses its Facebook Page to talk about the things its fans and customers care about: sports, wings, and beer.

Generating responses from Facebook fans

With the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm, likes and comments by fans/Likers beget more likes and comments. The Buffalo Wild Wings conversation strategy aims to tap into that algorithm by posting and sharing content and status updates that are designed to generate a response.
And there’s no question the approach is working. A quick glance at the Wall reveals that status updates and posts from the brand regularly garner hundreds or thousands of comments and likes.
So how does BWW fare so well? Murphy shared what has worked best:

  • Sticking with short status updates (10 words or fewer)
  • Asking questions or invite debate
  • “Post like a friend, not a brand”
  • Being timely: Posting about relevant topics and during time(s) of the day when fans are most likely to be using Facebook
  • Following the 80/20 rule: 80% of posts for and about people (fans and brand advocates), just 20% about the brand itself
  • Not deleting comments just because they’re negative
  • Celebrating milestones and rewarding fans for their contributions (for example: BWW anoints a “trivia champion” each week and displays that fan’s photo in the Page’s official avatar image).
  • Integrating owned media and content assets (photos, videos, content/links from corporate website/microsite) to spark conversations
  • Using Facebook advertising to drive additional fan growth

Defining ‘success’ on Facebook

Buffalo Wild Wings has a clear definition of the “success” of its Facebook marketing efforts, Murphy said. Online, average impressions/month, total fans/Likers, and engagement per post have risen steadily on the Page throughout the year.
And the overall value of that success? Research and polling reveal that BWW Facebook fans visit the actual restaurants more often and spend more money ($616/year) than non-fans.

Podcast interview with Brandon Murphy. Podcast show notes

* Brandon shares how the BWW Page has grown over the past 15 months and explains why the “art of conversation” is so important on Facebook.
* Brandon notes the need for brand marketers to retrain themselves in order to not treat Facebook as another marketing channel.
* Brandon explains how strong interaction on the Page helps brand posts break through the Facebook algorithms and show up in fans’ News Feeds.
* Brandon talks about the integration of Facebook advertising and its place in fan acquisition.
* Brandon discusses how 22square assesses the true marketing value of Facebook marketing efforts for its clients.
* Brandon shares the two keys to Facebook marketing success.
Podcast transcript
Bryan Person: Bryan Person here with Brandon Murphy, who is the chief strategy director at 22squared. Brandon, you just wrapped up a really good presentation about the Buffalo Wild Wings Facebook Page and the strategic thinking behind that. Can you just start off by giving an overview of the development of the Page: where it started, and how it’s grown over the last year and a half that you’ve been working with it?
Brandon Murphy: The Page started as we consolidated several Pages, some by fans, some by local restaurants. We did that in August of ’09, which immediately gave us a solid fan base to work with. Which is really important, because I really believe that starting a Page from scratch … The first 100,000 fans are the hardest ones to get, because you’re starting from zero. So having an existing fan base out there helped us a lot, and just formalizing it got us off the ground. Since then, we’ve grown it from 500,000 to 3.5 million. And the way we’ve done that has been largely through the art of conversation, which is talking about the things that our customers and our sports fans out there care about the most, and will agree with or debate about, or dislike and comment.
So it’s really been a community where we’ve been able to fire up fans of both the social experience that we have in the restaurant, which is really important, and also just about sports, and competitive ribbing, and trash talk, and fandom.
Bryan: And Facebook is a natural fit, a natural environment for that as well.
Brandon: Definitely. I think the role we serve for sports fans out there is that they go to Buffalo Wild Wings to be with friends. They don’t just go there for “the wings are awesome,” or to see a specific game. They go in there to soak in sports culture, but also, hang out. And we facilitate that hanging out in the restaurant by trying to get them to interact with each other across the tables, but also, by serving what we call “social lubricants,” which are beer, wings, and sports. So really, what we try to do is take that same kind of experience and just take it into Facebook. When they’re sitting there at work, or they’re not able to be at Buffalo Wild Wings, they can still get a little of the social interaction that they would get if they were there.
Bryan: Now you gave a list during the presentation about best practices in engagement. One I found really interesting — and I see this, but I don’t always see brands doing it well — is “post like a friend, not like a brand,” or “post like a real human being, not like a brand.” Why do you think it is that a lot of brands, even consumer brands, really struggle with that?
Brandon: I think they look at Facebook as a marketing channel. Marketers, we’re used to writing headlines, and we’re used to writing offers. We’re used to talking to the consumer and persuading them to do something, and in the social space, it’s something completely different. You want to talk with them so they engage in a conversation with you, and they’ll talk to you about others, and to do that you’ve got to have a table conversation with them versus a marketing conversation with them. I think it’s also hard because we’ve had to retrain a lot of our creatives at the agency, just in terms of how do you write a status post. And a lot of the creatives aren’t really good at writing status posts. It’s social media people that are creative, that understand that we’re having a conversation.
We’re not trying to get them to do anything besides say “Yeah, cool”, or “No, I disagree”, or “Yeah, I agree”. What it boils down to is just being honest. All of us are Facebook users. So in the end, we all take part of this community and this channel. So asking yourself the question, “What would I respond to in my own news feed?” is a valuable thing as well.
Bryan: And you mentioned in there Facebook’s EdgeRank and their algorithm that I think all marketers are trying to figure out: How do you crack through? But can you explain the importance of the way that you craft the post, or when you craft it, or the type of engagement you get, in trying to get into that [Facebook] News Feed and what that means?
Brandon: Well, the News Feed is really important. The way you get in people’s News Feed is really by getting them to interact with your post. That’s the simplest way I can put it. There are lots of scores that go into that in terms of the timeliness, how fast people interact with it, how many people commented versus liked, how many impressions you have, and the ratio of the impressions to the interactions. So there’s lots of stuff that goes into their algorithm that no one really understands; it’s kind of a black box. But we do know that the higher the interaction rate with a post, and the faster that happens, the more likely it is to get in your News Feed, which is really where your efforts on Facebook get amplified.
So we pay attention to interaction rates and things that drive interactions rates: the number of words, assets with the posts, what time you typically post, what the topic is about, how you ignite with questions, or spur participation versus just putting something out there that’s hard to respond to. So those kinds of things we pay attention to and measure on a weekly, monthly basis to say, “This is how we’re learning how to get the most interactions from a post.”
Bryan: You talked in there also about doing Facebook advertising. Can you expand on when you’re running ads, and how that compares to drive engagement versus organic engagement?
Brandon: Running ads on Facebook for fan acquisition is really important. Being able to dial in the mix of organic and paid likes, and the more likes you get from a paid standpoint, it should drive your organic likes as well. And we work with Blink Media. They’re a reseller of marketplace ads on Facebook, and they’re awesome. They help us dial in how many homepage units and ROS units. We do a lot of ads, and a lot of optimization, and a lot of testing to see what’s driving the most likes. We don’t spend an inordinate amount; we don’t spend a lot of money. But the money we do spend, we’re more efficient with because our costs-per-fans are usually between $2 and $5 a fan. And from a paid standpoint, typically, your costs are up around $8 or $10, if you’re going straight through Facebook, and you don’t optimize the marketplace here, etc.
Bryan: And specifically, whether it’s Buffalo Wild Wings, or even some of the other brands that you work with, how do you see an average Facebook fan, and what does that convert to in terms of purchasing on the other end at the offline venue?
Brandon: We look at it several different ways, and sometimes we look at it with specific tactics. We posted a coupon to the Wall, and we looked at the number of prints, and the number of redemptions at the store. That’s a straight link to it, but we also do overall studies. So we’ll poll our fans, and we’ll do studies that show us if the visit rate per month is higher with our fans versus with the non-fans that go to our restaurants, and if our self-declared spend levels are any higher or lower. So we measure fans versus non-fans on Facebook to understand if we’re getting more visitations out of our fan base. But that’s almost a secondary kind of thing. How we use Facebook with Wings is to make sure that our advocates are talking about us, so that when we open up stores in new markets, the people who know us in that new market are already talking to people who don’t know us. So we have lines out the door when we open the store.
Bryan: Finally, if you had to boil it down to one or two things that brands should be doing on Facebook to see the most success, what would those be?
Brandon: Honing in your conversation strategy is really one of the most important things. And listen a lot. Just understand what’s working and why it’s working. So those are the two big things. Making sure you have a conversation strategy that’s more about the fan than it is about the brand, and then measuring and understanding those posts and how many interactions you’re earning based on those posts, those are the two most important things.
Bryan: Brandon, I appreciate your time, and thanks again.
Brandon: Thanks.

Buffalo Wild Wings presentation at WOMMA

Below are the slides that Fresher and Murphy used during their WOMMA talk: