High street food brands failing to engage with users on social media

By Catriona Oldershaw and Anne McCrossan

A study of 85 of the UK’s leading food service brands, conducted by Visceral Business and Synthesio, has revealed that many brands are not engaging with their consumers and suppliers via social media, potentially impacting brand loyalty and repeat purchases.

The Social Food Brand Study 2013, (https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/assets.visceralbusiness.com/Visceral-Business-Social-Food-Study-2013.pdf ) which covers 6,000 outlets in the High Street, looked at activity across a wide spectrum of social and digital media, including the use of main networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as well as forum, blogs, video and photo sharing activity and the degree to which social media is integrated into websites. The research found:

• Online conversations are being dominated by a few companies: Ten brands account for 96% of all social media food conversations – Burger King (32.8%), KFC (19.7%), Starbucks (15.5%), Pizza Hut (7.7%), McDonalds (7.4%), Subway (6.1%), Greggs (2.8%), Nando’s (1.5%), Ben & Jerry’s (1.5%) and Dominos (1.2%)

• Websites are not optimised for social media: 40% do not have websites optimised for social and mobile engagement; 19% are not connected to consumers via social media at all

• Social media links on brand websites have increased by 72% this year, however adoption still lags behind FMCG, entertainment and housing industries

• Brands need to diversify their platforms: Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform, however only 4% of brands use smaller platforms such as Flickr and Foursquare

• Only 60% of brands surveyed use LinkedIn, highlighting an opportunity for food brands to better engage with franchisees and B2B supplier networks

The premise was to look at social media from the users’ point of view, starting with the simple question ‘you’ve got £20 in your pocket, you’re in a High Street and you’re hungry. Who are you going to choose to spend it with and how might social media help make that decision?

77% of people discussing these social food brands on the web are talking about the experience of eating, but many brands aren’t engaged in that conversation. The emphasis on mainly transactional activities and broadcasted promotional communication means that many brands aren’t engaging in the best ways that can help their businesses. There also seems to be a general reticence in the sector about people coming out from behind the brand as part of the development of corporate reputation.

The level of engagement by food brands contrasts sharply with other sectors. Charities, for example, have extended their support by developing engaging content via multiple platforms, such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. Of the food brands that are using social media, Starbucks has made the biggest commitment to social media and is the most ready to engage in conversation with users.

About the authors

Catriona Oldershaw is Managing Director UK of Synthesio. Anne McCrossan is Founder of Visceral Business.

Synthesio builds software for global social media monitoring and analysis. Synthesio’s software enables businesses to monitor and analyse conversations around their brand or products in more than 50 languages and 192 countries. Synthesio’s clients include Nissan, Microsoft, MTV, L’Oreal and Mars and the company has offices in New York, London, Singapore and Paris.


Visceral Business is a specialist social business design consultancy helping businesses and brands with social business strategy and adopting social media and networking technology.


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