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[Interview] Learn the Twitter tactics & social strategies that gave Pizza Express a 4,400% ROI

With over 430 restaurants in the UK and 75 internationally, Pizza Express is the big cheese of casual dining restaurants. The brand’s social channels are formed with a base mission of enticing an audience into their restaurants with toppings of delicious images, spicy wit, and mouthwatering video.

Their Twitter account has doughballed from 40,000 followers to over 100,000 in a six month period, as well as a 25% growth in Instagram and Facebook fans. We spoke to their Social Media Manager, Tim Love, about how their social channels are driving sales, keeping customers loyal, and how social media is informing their wider marketing strategies. Join the upper crust of social media experts, and bite into a big slice of social media wisdom to get a pizza the action.

Audiense: In the last year, you have more than doubled your Twitter followers, why was this important and what was the driving force behind it?

Tim Love, Pizza Express: "There was a strong desire to have a more prominent presence on Twitter. We wanted to grow our user base, learn who they were, and get information from them. For example, one of the things we wanted to know was the predominant gender and age groups that are interested and engaging with our brand on social media. A larger presence can give you a much more accurate picture of that

So we ran a promoted account campaign based solely in the UK that was super effective in terms of cost-per-follower. This was really heartening for us as a business that’s been around for quite a long time, with an audience that has grown older with us. So to know that we were still relevant to a younger audience that we can engage with on social media was a valuable discovery. Our customer’s needs are our key focus, and having a larger base of followers allows us to get a better understanding of what those needs are."

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What were the longer term results of growing that community via a promoted account campaign?

"When we’ve done conversion tracking on Twitter, the redemption rate has been good. But what was really positive is that as the audience has grown, they’ve continued to follow us. They want to know what we’re saying, hear our news, find out about new items on the menu. The worry of any promoted account campaign is that you’ll never hear from people again once they’ve followed you and seen what your account is all about. Keeping the people acquired in this time has been valuable in informing our long-term social strategy and vindicates our content strategy."

What is the best advantage of Twitter over other social networks?

"Firstly, Twitter analytics have really come on over the last few months. Now you see precisely how many people have seen a Tweet rather than leaving it up to assumption, you can then see what people have done with it and use your social tools to learn more about those people who are responding.

In terms of real time, Twitter is the best platform by a long way. For example, on Friday we opened a new flagship store in Leicester Square, London. I went down and Tweeted asking who wanted to come along for some free pizza, filmed some videos, and took some pictures that got people to visit. It’s so exciting to engage with our followers like this."

"There’s no other platform that can reach people so instantaneously and immediately influence their behaviour. If you’re a marketer who can use that aspect effectively it’s a huge advantage. That’s why we wanted to grow our audience on the platform, because that kind of thing gets far better results when you have 115,000 followers than 40,000. You’ll get your message further."


What’s the process of getting real time posts approved at Pizza Express?

"My bosses are very supportive and have given me license to implement the content strategy – including real-time activity – that works best for Pizza Express. I think if someone has a social media team that is well-trained in the values and ethics of their company, and has a strong understanding of the audience, they need to be trusted to act on a real-time event."

What tips do you have for real time?

"With something like The World Cup, a global event with a massive opportunity for exposure, it was tempting to comment whenever something happened. But the opportunity needs to fit the brand and feel natural, otherwise it could look a bit needy. We tried to find places where we could join in the conversation and have some fun, which lead to some of our most successful Tweets to date."


You’ve used Vine a lot more in the last few months, what lead to you investing in the production for them?

"It’s hard to get someone to watch more than 10 seconds of video of a restaurant business, but these offer a huge opportunity to see our food in an interesting way and also to be quite creative with product-orientated sketches. I’d seen Taco Bell doing it, and I loved how it gave their company a bit more personality so we gave it a go.

I just think it’s that Twitter and Vine (as platforms) have the perfect relationship, when I record a Vine I’m primarily thinking of Twitter. When you scroll through the timeline it’s there and easy to interact with, and on Twitter you’ll also get the bonus of analytical tools that you wouldn’t get purely on Vine."

What kind of results did you get from those posts?

"I think when people watch a video they are far more invested in the experience, as a result we’ve found that on average over 4% of our following will engage with a Tweet in some way that includes a Vine. Engagement isn’t the most important metric to measure success with, but it’s useful to help teach you what’s most likely to resonate with your audience.

We’ve taken those findings on board and it’s influenced how we drive actions from our social channels. For example this week we’ve been putting out some Valentine’s Day Vines that are really creative and designed to quickly put thoughts into peoples’ heads when they see it on Twitter. The entertainment value draws them in, then they realize that the food looks good, which nudges them to think about booking a table, and we have a trackable link in that Tweet that allows them to do that. We’re currently seeing some excellent CTRs on those."

How do you prove what’s driving footfall on your social channels?

"The best example was back in January of this year. January usually has a pattern of people starting diets and wanting salads at the beginning of the month, before moving to comfort food nearer the end of the month. So halfway through the month we made some really alluring videos of pizzas rising in the oven, posted them on social media and attached compelling deals. My hope was that the strong content would show our audience the fantastic pizzas we have to offer and encourage them to visit us. We included the CTAs to click-through to our website and targeted our fans, our competitors fans, and people who had visited our website. On this particular campaign, we got a fantastic ROI."

You also share a lot of offers via your email database, do you tie this in with your social contacts?

"On social you can target contacts in your mailing list who may not see your email, or may prefer a different message or offer. Using our analytical tools we can see who isn’t connecting with those emails and try a different approach with them on social. I find that the statistics considerably back up the effectiveness of socially targeting people who have shown an interest in you via email or visiting your website. These sorts of tools have completely changed how effective you can prove social media marketing is."

How much does the feedback from social media influence your wider marketing strategy?

"It’s definitely becoming more influential. What we ultimately want are 360 campaigns, so what you see on social media is then something you action in a restaurant. So how social media can drive brand engagement, sale, and SEO rankings – the KPIs depend on the details and format of the campaign - are some of the first things considered at the beginning of the creative process.

It’s developed to the point where we have a campaign coming up towards the end of March where social media will obviously be at the forefront of what you see online, but the campaign will be visible in our restaurants as well. That’s exciting because our ultimate goal is to have campaigns that bridge the gap between what you see online and what you experience in the restaurant in order to maximise a customer’s experience. We want to give our customers the best experience they can possibly have."

What’s lead to social having that sort of role at the company?

"We’ve seen the results in terms measurable ROI, but also the kind of buzz you can create with a successful 360 campaign. It’s becoming clear how much influence social media can have over your brand’s share of conversation within your market. We’ve seen campaigns where people get talking about you, which gives you great brand visibility, but also encourages people to dine with us. It can start on social, perform well there and gain a foothold that makes it even more effective when it spreads to your offline channels."

Does the day-to-day life of your audience affect when you post?

"Using metrics and analytical tools we’ve noticed that our engagement rates shoot up just before dinner and lunch time. These are expected, but we’ve also found that mornings on the weekend work really well. So when we’re posting is 100% informed with data, and the difference it can make is amazing. The exact same piece of content can resonate so much better at 7pm than 3pm, so everything that we do is informed by stats."

What other ways do you use social tools to inform your posting?

"I also track what our competitors are doing. If I see a spike in their activity on a certain day I can view their channels and see what Tweets were working for them, then try to work out what factors made them perform so well. It also gives you a lot more perspective on how your channels are doing, which is important. It’s very satisfying when you see your content performing higher than the industry average and it can help us to gauge our position within the market."

How else do you compare yourself with competitors on social media?

"A lot of people will Tweet us saying they’re thinking they’re going to either us or a competitor, and we’ll always try to get there first. I love those interactions because you can experience a one-on-one relationship with a customer. It’s only on a small scale, but it shows how influential social media can be in helping customers to choose your brand. It makes it clear how much people value brands acknowledging them."

How do you keep on top of all that interaction?

"In terms of customer service, it’s a cornerstone of our social media output and I work very closely with the Customer Experience team. I think direct interactions with people, whether it be a customer service query or somebody engaging with a piece of content, are the more important thing a brand on social media can do."

Why is it so important?

"It’s a fundamental part of being on social media, otherwise what’s the point of being there? If content is king, conversation is queen, that makes total sense to me. With one in two UK Twitter users visiting restaurants based on recommendations they’ve seen on there, and 73% of them going after seeing something to do with the food, it’s important that we use everything we can to give them a good experience there.

Combine that with the fact that 55% of UK Twitter users use Twitter while in a restaurant and you can begin to understand the importance of using social media to shape their experience. So those interactions aren’t just a bit of fun, they build trust and we see them make a genuine difference to the actions that people will take."

What realistic developments would you like to see in social media to help marketers?

"As a business, want to get people talking about our food and encourage them to visit us. Products that can help us increase footfall raise some pretty exciting possibilities for us, and indeed all advertisers. Specifically, I’ve seen tests with the Click-To-Buy button on Twitter, where you will be able to buy stuff or make orders without even leaving your timeline. That is something that could be really interesting for us, someone sees an American Hot pizza on Twitter, thinks it looks amazing and buys one before forgetting about it. This type of impulse purchasing isn’t something that is currently available in the restaurant business."


How are you looking to use social media to drive sales in the future?

"We’ve observed how social media has driven more traffic to our website over the last year with the offers we’ve been sharing on there, so over the next year it will develop further with new improvements on our site. We’re looking at a more localized approach that will give us some truly useful data as well as proving ROI."

How will it work?

"Let’s say there’s a restaurant in Manchester that we want to promote, we could advertise that specific restaurant for a couple of days on Twitter and Facebook that is targeted specifically at people in that area. We can then see how many people have seen that specific advert, claimed the offer and then gone into that particular restaurant as a result of each individual post. Things may be a little hit and miss at first, but over time you can learn so much from this sort of approach and I really think it will push social media advertising further into the forefront of marketing strategies."

What sort of things would you want to learn from that?

"All sorts, but one thing we’re particularly interested in learning more about is the timing aspect. For example, what sort of content will get people impulsively making dinner plans for that day, or what ones need to be a few days in advance. We’re discovering this on a national level at the moment, but no two towns are the same, and segmenting our approach could see a notable increase in results."

What’s the benefit of using social media for this sort of research, as opposed to other methods of marketing?

"We can use that social data to see precisely when people are clicking on the offers, and then seeing when they’re going out and using them in the restaurants. The data also comes back to us a lot quicker, meaning we can respond to something working (or not) way faster than on other channels. Social media is also second-to-none in terms of both engaging with your audience on a day-to-day basis and getting invaluable feedback from them about their restaurant experiences."

Do you feel like the data available from social media gives bad marketers nowhere to hide?

"Absolutely, you are getting concrete numbers on how your content is being received right the way down to the individual user. I find it odd that some people still feel a scepticism towards social media’s value as it’s really quite transparent in terms of what you’re getting for your money and what the point of the platforms is, which you can’t always say about most marketing techniques. Sure, I might not be able to tell you exactly how many pizzas that World Cup Tweet sold, but I think social media is judged unfairly in that respect as you could say the same about with most advertising channels."

Want a social strategy cooked to perfection like the one we've learnt about from Pizza Express? Here are some key takeaways:

  • Use socially exclusive offers to help demonstrate the ROI provided by your social channels.
  • Seek real time opportunities, but make sure it fits your brand.
  • Track your competitors to see what strategies are working for them, and compare yourself to the industry standards.
  • Use trackable links to verify what posts and platforms are driving traffic to your site.
  • Cross-examine your social contacts with your email list, use social to pick up contacts that your emails are missing.
  • Research your audience’s Best Time To Tweet to influence their behavior at optimum times.
  • Remain engaged with people who have followed you after a promotion in order to keep them as loyal customers.

Want to hear more insights and opinions from digital marketing and social media professionals at some of the world's top brands and organisations? Check out the other social media interviews in our Spotlight Series, including NASA, Paddy Power, United Nations, River Island, and many more.

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