Until the summer of 2010, Chuck E. Cheese's didn't have any social media presence at all. Since then, it's become a social media powerhouse.
Last month, Restaurant Business magazine listed the brand as one of only a handful of
restaurant chains with winning social media strategies. The magazine included six tips based on Chuck E. Cheese's practices in its list of 50 strategies
How did Chuck E. Cheese's get there so fast? Surprisingly enough, by not rushing into things. Working with agency partner M/C/C, the chain first tapped
into its existing fan club, and it grew from there. Now, it's got nearly 500,000 Facebook fans,
about 6,400 Twitter followers, and nearly 1,500 Pinterest
A toe in the water
In summer 2010, Chuck E. Cheese's communicators called M/C/C to find out how they might ease their way into social media. They had been impressed by
M/C/C's work with a grocery store chain and asked for a discussion.
"We sat down in a room with them and just talked about philosophies," says Jim Terry, M/C/C's vice president of account service.
Those philosophies didn't quite match up. Terry and his team explained that people were going to talk about the Chuck E. Cheese's brand on social media no
matter what, but the Chuck E. Cheese's leadership worried about growing too big too quickly. The negative feedback would be too much to deal with, they
So Terry offered a compromise: "Let's put a toe in the water before we put the whole foot in."
That toe, he proposed, would involve asking members of the Chuck E. Cheese's fan club—which had about 2.5 million members at the time and has since grown to around 5 million—to be the first ones to follow
the brand on social media.
"They already like us, they know us, they have good feelings about us," Terry told them. "They're advocates on our behalf."
Soon enough, the brand was reaching out to other groups, particularly moms and mom bloggers.
"We realized that we had one thing that very few brands have in the quantity we do, and that is moms," says Michelle Chism, director of corporate
communications for Chuck E. Cheese's. "If we're able to engage with mommy bloggers and get their reinforcement, then other moms see value in that."
Striking the right tone for parents
Chuck E. Cheese's is a restaurant designed for kids, but its social media presences are geared entirely toward parents, Chism says. The content is a mix of
serious material about issues such as gluten allergies and lighthearted stuff that parents can share with their kids.
For example, Chuck E. Cheese's teamed up with Laffy Taffy for
a "joke of the week" feature. The purpose of that feature is not to be promotional, Chism says, but rather to give parents something silly to share with their kids.
"We're able to use Laffy Taffy's jokes. Using our artwork, we design a joke featuring Chuck E.," she says.
Parents can get in on helping shape the Chuck E. Cheese's brand, too. The brand reached out to parents to help figure out what the new version of the
company mascot would wear, say, and sing, for instance.
"We had a really great opportunity when we launched the new, contemporized Chuck E. character last July," Chism says. "A lot of our parents have nostalgia
around the Chuck E. Cheese's brand. They're very passionate about who Chuck E. is. It was important for us to ask those questions."
Then there's the more serious stuff. On those topics, Chuck E. Cheese's aims to give mom bloggers content to post on their blogs so they can tell their
peers that the brand is handling issues such as gluten allergies in a responsible way.
Chuck E. Cheese's and M/C/C work together very closely on each post and project, Chism says, but it's M/C/C that actually presses the enter key when items
get posted. Terry says his team works diligently to keep the tone consistent.
"One of the things we did at the outset of this whole program was to establish a voice," he says. "We put parameters around what that voice should be."
The team initially considered making the company mascot the face and voice of Chuck E. Cheese's social media presences, but M/C/C decided against it.
Issues such as restaurant cleanliness have to come from a corporate voice, he says.
Terry says mixing the fun content with more serious issues makes the conversation all the more genuine. "We know that this lighthearted tone is our
overriding tone, but if you're going to engage in a conversation, it ought to be like a real conversation," he says.
It's hard to pinpoint just what cumulative effects Chuck E. Cheese's social media programs have had, Terry says, though he cites a few anecdotal successes.
For instance, about 95 percent of people who checked in at Chuck E. Cheese's during a FourSquare promotion last year redeemed a coupon for five free
tokens. Tens of thousands of people downloaded the brand's augmented reality app within 10 days of its launch, Terry says.
The biggest success, he says, is the brand's connection with bloggers, however. It has built a network of 650 bloggers, Terry says.
Chism adds that social media has opened Chuck E. Cheese's communications up to a whole new community-the parents of autistic children.
"That is an audience we have never sought out," she says. "Since we started our program in 2010, the volume of videos we receive, complimentary posts on
our Facebook page, photo memories shared on our website, has increased substantially. It snowballed into this community that now knows Chuck E. Cheese's."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.
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