When it comes to restaurants, two new studies point to social media still having a somewhat limited impact on the overall consumer universe, but a very strong influence within specific, generally younger, segments.
One points to significant opportunities among early technology adopters, based on their use of social media and heavy QSR and fast-casual restaurant use.
The other, focused just on QSRs, finds that social media is not a major fast-food information source for most consumers, but is very important, particularly for promotions, among those who do use these media in relation to fast food.
In a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, food/foodservice consultancy Technomic found that when it comes to using cutting-edge tech products and Web sites, 8% and 15% of respondents can be characterized, respectively, as "innovators" and "early adopters," based on the adoption curve model of Everett Rogers. (Innovators are the first to try innovations, while early adopters are opinion leaders who form the second wave of adopters.)
Fully 83% of the innovators and 72% of the early adopters reported ordering from fast-food restaurants at least once per week compared to 56%, on average, among consumers overall, according to this "Leveraging Social Media and Technologies" research. In addition, 53% of innovators and 35% of early adopters reported ordering from fast-casual restaurants at least once per week, compared to an average of 20% for consumers overall.
Furthermore, 48% of both of these early-adopter groups, compared to just 25% of consumers overall, confirmed that a restaurant's presence on a social network (such as a branded Facebook fan page) positively influences their decision to try that restaurant.
The correlations between early tech adopters and heavy restaurant patronage can likely be attributed in large part to early adopters' higher-than-average affluence, which also enables them to eat out more frequently, Technomic EVP Darren Tristano tells Marketing Daily.
More important, he points out, is the confirmation that these early adopters -- groups that are also highly active in social media -- are likely to be among the first to broadcast their opinions about a restaurant promotion, a new restaurant concept or one that they have tried for the first time.
"With younger people, in particular, consuming less traditional media, our research findings overall confirm the importance of using social media not just to get the word out about promotions or new menu items, but to get immediate feedback on food, service and pricing and to enlist fans as ambassadors to grow restaurant brands," Tristano sums up.
National restaurant chains are working hard to tap into social networks' reach and influence, but independents and regionals should also jump on these media as opportunities to develop strong local fan bases among early adopters, noted Technomic Director of Product Innovation Erik Thoresen.
Meanwhile, a study from brand development firm M/A/R/C Research probed social media's impacts on QSRs, specifically, by surveying more than 10,000 U.S. consumers who had dined at one or more QSRs during the past month (including burgers, chicken, Mexican food, pizza, sandwiches and/or seafood).
One-third of fast-food diners reported not using any social networking sites -- but importantly, most of these non-users are over age 54.
Among social media users, 59% reported using Facebook, followed by YouTube (22%), MySpace (20%), Twitter (13%), blog sites (5%) and "some other" social media site (6%). Facebook users skewed female (54%), while YouTube users skewed male (62%). Fully 59% of those using social media reported using these on a daily basis, versus 27% accessing them weekly, 8% monthly and 6% less often.
Whether because of QSRs' familiarity factor or other reasons, when it comes to getting information about or evaluating a fast-food restaurant, more than half deemed social media not at all important or not very important (29% and 26%, respectively). However, 23% consider these media somewhat important, 13% very important, and 9% extremely important. Those who considered social media important skewed male.
Among those using social media for fast-food purposes, 57% said they use them to find coupons or promotions, 48% to learn about brands' menu items, 45% to find locations near them, 41% to get feedback/ reviews from other consumers, and 39% to do price comparisons with other restaurants.
"Although the majority of consumers aren't specifically using social media to obtain information about QSR brands," it's important to note that many who do are looking for coupons and/or promotions, observed M/A/R/C EVP Randy Wahl.
Also, among those who have used social media in relation to fast food, nearly 70% said that it's extremely or very important for fast-food brands to participate in these media.
Just 5% found the social media-based information provided by fast-food brands to lack credibility. One quarter found QSR brands' social media information to be extremely believable, 38% very believable, and 32% somewhat believable. (Males were most likely to find the information most believable.)
More than half (56%) of social media users in general did not recall seeing references by other consumers to any fast-food restaurants on these media. Still, 36% did remember seeing fast-food restaurant mentions on Facebook, 12% on YouTube, 10% each on Twitter and MySpace, and 6% on blogs.
Probed further, just 7% of those who had seen references said that these were more negative than positive in nature. Furthermore, just 12% deemed the comments lacking in credibility. In fact, 52% described them as somewhat believable, 25% as very believable, and 9% as extremely believable.