Among fast casual restaurants, Applebee's generated the largest online impact between November 2010 and January 2011, according to the latest quarterly report on the segment from media measurement technology firm General Sentiment.
Applebee's realized online exposure that would translate to more than $9.5 million if purchased through traditional media. Its buzz was driven in large part by its addition of three new Weight Watchers-endorsed entrées (it already offered two), according to the report.
General Sentiment tracks volume of mentions across online news media, social media and Twitter and factors in positive and negative sentiment to calculate purchase equivalent media values. As some brands within the top-10 list demonstrate, negative events don't necessarily depress the overall media or impact value. (Isolated perception value performance is measured separately.)
Second-ranked Denny's ($6.2 million in media value), got good buzz on its introduction of energy-efficient LED lighting in several Colorado and Illinois restaurants, as well as for having prevailed in a class-action suit filed by a New Jersey consumer with the support of nutrition advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The suit, which alleged that the chain was engaging in fraud by failing to adequately warn consumers about the high sodium content of menu items, was dismissed in November, and that decision was upheld by an appeals court in January.
Other top-10 performers:
Looking at the separate measurement of perception value, or quality of the exposure created, the top five winners were Lone Star Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Rainforest Café, Chevys Fresh Mex and IHOP.
The biggest perception value losers were Ruth's Chris Steak House, Bennigan's, Landry's Restaurants, Bahama Breeze and Macaroni Grill. (Ruth's took a hit for a racist email message sent internally by a Mississippi unit manager, which found its way to the customer and was widely distributed on social media.)