How One Tweet Raised Arby's Social Media Cred—and Its Budget - eMarketer

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How One Tweet Raised Arby's Social Media Cred—and Its Budget

October 3, 2014



Josh Martin
Director, Digital and Social Media
Arby's Restaurant Group

Arby’s had its moment in the social media limelight earlier this year, thanks to Pharrell Williams and his Arby’s logo-look-alike hat. Josh Martin, director of digital and social media for Arby’s Restaurant Group and the exec behind the fast-food retailer’s memorable tweet (“Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs”), talked with eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson about the ways Arby’s has benefited from the publicity and what changes in social media marketing he expects for his organization next year.

eMarketer: Ever since your tweet about the hat Pharrell Williams wore to the Grammys, Arby’s has been linked with the idea of real-time marketing. How are you feeling about real-time marketing now?

Josh Martin: The Pharrell moment was a great moment for us, but our mantra is to come to work every day thinking this moment could happen again. It used to be that everybody would just get together during certain events—get in these war rooms—and that was real-time marketing.

But I think there’s a shift. Every day is a real-time moment, so you’ve got to constantly be monitoring and looking for opportunities to jump in.

“I think there’s a shift. Every day is a real-time moment, so you’ve got to constantly be monitoring and looking for opportunities to jump in.”

We try not to force ourselves into conversations. We plan ahead for big events and have stuff ready, but if we don’t feel like it’s the right moment or the right thing to post, we don’t do it. People are a lot more critical of the content that gets out there. You don’t want to have a negative reaction like, “Why is Arby’s posting about this? It doesn’t make sense. They should be talking about other things.”

eMarketer: It seems like marketers are spending more time focusing on developing and promoting their best work, rather than spitting out a lot of content at a fast pace. Is that something you’re seeing within your own organization as well?

Martin: Yeah, absolutely. There’s definitely been a shift over the past year and a half for us, and I think Facebook forced our hand a little bit. I think a couple years ago it was all about quantity, getting out there as much as we can just to be in the feed. Now with [organic] reach on Facebook being what it is, it makes us pay a lot closer attention.

We only have limited resources to do paid content in social, so let’s make sure when we do put something out there that’s going to connect with our target audience and is going to resonate with the user.

There are so many brands in social, and it’s so hard to cut through the newsfeed. Instead of flooding it with a lot of content, it makes a lot more sense to be a little bit more selective.

eMarketer: Tell me about your plans for video in social media. How are you thinking about incorporating it going forward?

Martin: I think the mistake that brands often make—and we made two or three years ago—was just taking a broadcast commercial and slapping it in social and expecting it to work.

“There are so many brands in social, and it’s so hard to cut through the newsfeed. Instead of flooding it with a lot of content, it makes a lot more sense to be a little bit more selective.”

So now we’re looking at more short forms of video content. We’ve experimented with a couple of Vines so far, and it’s gone really well. [In August 2014, Arby’s announced that Pharrell’s hat, which Arby’s acquired in a charity auction, would go on display at the Newseum museum in Washington, District of Columbia.] We worked with a Vine artist to make the announcement via a 6-second Vine, and that performed really well. So it seems like the shorter the video, the better it performs.

eMarketer: How do you expect to balance the need for production quality with the ephemeral nature of social, where a video you post may not get noticed or gain traction?

Martin: We’re looking at leveraging partners and vendors that specialize in video content. The Newseum Vine performed probably 10 times better than what we would have done if we had to do it internally. So I think partnerships are key there—leveraging creators that do this on a daily basis.

eMarketer: How are your spending plans for social media changing as you approach 2015?

Martin: Across the board, we’re looking to increase spending for social, and I think a lot of it probably has to do with the Pharrell moment we had to show our franchisees and the executive team the power of social, what social could do, that one little moment we had. So I think they definitely think the investment is worth it.

eMarketer: Will you make any changes in how you budget for paid social in 2015?

Martin: We’re thinking about all of that pretty regularly. I think there was this mantra that Facebook is free, but the model has changed. We’re definitely adding in more budget for paid amplification. But we still want to put resources toward creating great pieces of content that are going to break through. Even if you have paid ad support, if it’s not good content, it’s not going to do as well.

“We’re looking to increase spending for social, and I think a lot of it probably has to do with the Pharrell moment we had to show our franchisees and the executive team the power of social.”

eMarketer: How does Arby’s manage social media, and have there been any changes since the Pharrell moment?

Martin: I would say right now there are just three people—myself and two others. I started here four years ago, and I was basically the inaugural person in our social/digital group. We didn’t have one, and traditionally Arby’s has been a little bit behind some of our competitors in terms of having a social focus.

We had a new CMO [Rob Lynch] come on board at the end of last year. He came from Taco Bell and obviously did a great job at Taco Bell, so we got some investment in our social team. We were able to build out a dedicated room that’s on our main floor. We’re able to work in there, and people can come by and see what people are talking about on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s brought other groups closer to social, which I think is a huge benefit for the company. We’ve got our product development team coming by to see, “What do people think about this sandwich?”

We’ve got our guest support team coming by and seeing how we can better identify customer service issues and address them in a social space. So I think with that and the tweet it’s really exploded social for the company.

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