There are billions of them happening every day: conversations on the internet that is. People are talking about politics and sports and new technology and food and television shows. As marketers, we are sometimes driving those conversations, but more often, we’re trying to figure out where we fit into them. For Houlihan’s, this dive into what’s already being talked about is a core facet of their social strategy, and one that has served them well according to Faryle Scott, presenter at a recent Social Media Club of Kansas City monthly breakfast. In her presentation titled “Go Where the People Are”, Scott shared how Houlihan’s tracks, chooses and uses these conversations to reach not only their most loyal guests, but also potential ones.
“Don’t be the awkward party guest” is Scott’s first tip. Just as if you are entering the room of a party for the first time, before diving into any conversations, listen and see what people are talking about. Also realize what interesting information you have to bring to the conversation before speaking. Having just revamped their happy hour menu, Houlihan’s knew talking about it was a priority for them, but was it something people were already talking about? Using social monitoring tools, Houlihan’s found out the answer was yes, as over one million conversations were happening already about happy hour. It was a natural fit. The only question remained: how did the Houlihan’s team get people to talk about not only happy hour, but happy hour at Houlihan’s? Houlihan’s introduced #HouCheers and initially tried to get guests to post photos of themselves at happy hour. They learned quickly that the ask had to be simpler and instead evolved the campaign into a series of strategic questions posed to their guests about happy hour. The focus didn’t revolve around products, they revolved around the conversations already being had like, “Case of the Blah’s? Tell us why you need a happy hour this week for your chance to win a $100 Houlihan’s gift card!” This question leads us to Scott’s next tips.
Compelling Prizes & Interact With Fans. Houlihan’s doesn’t get complicated with the prizes. They give away gift cards. They are easy to send, guests love free food and Houlihan’s ensures the giveaway equates to patronage of their locations. Scott also doesn’t simply listen to what consumers have to say, she answers them, engaging in sometimes humorous, and sometimes long-term trading of cat memes and eventually sometimes the gold mine, a picture from the guest proving that he cashed in his winnings at the restaurant.
#HouCheers wasn’t Houlihan’s only campaign jumping on popular conversation, though, and while the second example took a bit more imagination to see how it fit with Houlihan’s, Scott said the quirkiness of the Houlihan’s brand meant Sharkweek became a perfect fit. With more traction than #Superbowl in recent years, #Sharkweek is one of the biggest weeks on social media for the entire year. This bounded timeframe worked within Houlihan’s needs, especially in the first year, when their campaign featuring plastic sharks drove so much traffic into locations to try their Shark Week themed drinks that their supply of plastic sharks was gone in two days. In the second year, Houlihan’s leveraged this excitement and added sneak peeks to their campaign, giving followers an insider look into what was coming.
While Shark Week may have been a new campaign focus for Houlihan’s, they did still rely on the tried and true social media practices of Use All Real Estate and Content is Everything. For both #HouCheers and #SharkAndAwe on social, Houlihan’s leveraged their extensive email database to introduce the campaign to their followers. Using their established platforms was key to getting to their most loyal guests first. Then, they only used paid advertising on social channels when the organic reach died down.
Their social channels proved to be an important component in helping the Houlihan’s team curate content. While they made some very engaging and creative content in-house, their fans and followers provided their own take on Sharkweek, posting pictures through their own lenses with the sharks. Houlihan’s then turned around and used that content on their owned channels (with permission from the contributor). Embracing a blogger network like they had not done before only extended the reach of the Sharkweek campaign.
Not all conversations are for every brand, but with the right bits of strategy and creativity, making the conversations people are already having work for your brand is possible. Houlihan’s showed through their creation of #HouCheers and #SharkAndAwe both their strategy and creativity were up for the challenge. We’ll just have to wait and see which party topic they turn into a campaign next.
*All slides used in this post were presented by Faryle Scott of Houlihan’s at the Oct 2. SMCKC breakfast. The presentation can be found here.