From the ALS Ice bucket challenge to WWF’s Last Selfie Snapchat campaign, the potential for a clever idea to go viral promises huge returns for brands and causes.  And the market responsible for spreading this social content at such efficient pace?  Millennials and Gen Z.  They’re a large, diverse market with significant spending power.  Pretty much born and raised with smartphone-in-hand and web at their fingertips, restaurant marketers shouldn’t underestimate their relationship with technology and social.  With that in mind, here are 5 viral social media campaigns you can take inspiration from making it easy for guests to share what they love about you online and via apps:

1. Taco Bell’s beefy crunch burrito
Taco Bell was the first major brand to use Snapchat by creating the world’s first limited-time announcement for a limited time product: The Beefy Crunch Burrito. They used Twitter to ask fans how far they’d go to prove their obsession to grab a Beefy Crunch Burrito before anyone else shining the social media spotlight on obsessed fans.  One such fan got a picture of the burrito tattooed on their arm, one fan set up the burrito army etc)


The Burrito ArmyBeefy tattoo

The lesson:
Build urgency and excitement by offering a firm favorite for a limited time only.  Consider using a range of social media channels to promote the campaign, capturing a wider audience and reaching them through their preferred social medium.  Snapchat might not be your go-to channel but when it’s the 3rd most popular social media platform among Millennials, it’s well worth considering to grab Gen Y-Z attention.

2. Coca-Cola’s Doc Pemberton Twitter Account
As well as inventing coke, Doc Pemberton has also sparked numerous trends on Twitter including #BeardCatting, #PemberPuns and #PemberPonders.  The greatest success of the Doc Pemberton personality is the relationships he forges with his followers.

Doc Pemberton Doc pmeberton twitter

As well as returning follows or writing a personalized poem for his biggest fans, Dr Pemberton has evolved from a company mascot to bone fide influencer status on Twitter.Doc Pemberton is the digital reincarnation of Coca-Cola’s inventor. His charming and witty tweets make him a refreshing follow and have helped propel him to the #1 brand personality on Twitter.

The lesson:
Inject some personality into your restaurant, café or bar brand.  By using an authentic character and a good story to be the face and voice for your business, you start becoming less of an untouchable, faceless brand and more of a likeable friend, a familiar personality and good entertainment value.  Like Doc Pemberton, humorous, off-beat and on-trend posts go a long way to building positive sentiment amongst your social media audiences, which is then reflected in their rising level of engagement.  Moving to mobile also makes it easy for your guests to banter back and forth with your personalities.  Whether it’s an integrated Twitter or Facebook function on your restaurant app or free Wi-Fi in your stores, convenient accessibility is key to success.  Some other brand personalities killing it on social media that are worth checking out include: Proctor & Gamble’s Mr Clean, Planters Mr Peanut, Aflac’s Duck and M&M’s Spokes-candy.

3. Expedia’s Throw Back Thursdays
Every Thursday during August, Expedia chose a winning Instagram photo tagged with @expedia and #ThrowMeBack giving them a travel voucher to recreate their trip and indulge in the nostalgia of where the photo was originally taken.  The campaign capitalized on the 228 million ‘TBT’ hashtags to date and connected people to their best travel moments.

The lesson:
Exploiting on some of social media’s most popular trends can help you reach a much larger audience and saves you the hassle of racking your brain for a brand spanking new viral idea.  Expedia’s #ThrowMeBack campaign can be applied to connecting people to their best food moments or best hotel stays for example.  And it doesn’t have to be #TBT, why not jump on #FollowFriday where people recommend other people to follow – a sort of Twitter intro if you will.  #FridayFeeling, #TFW (That Feeling When) and #Food are all top 10 trending hashtags from the past 12 months.

4. Tombstone Pizza Bites of Frights
Tombstone Pizza set the goal of being “the official pizza of Halloween.” Knowing how much mums and kids love their mobile phones, they had an idea: let’s bring the movies to the kitchen table, every night throughout October. They produced 31 six-second horror films on Vine over the 31 days in October.  Sounds simple but the videos resulted in a 6.3x greater engagement than other brand content running in the same month and led to a 230% increase in fan acquisition on Facebook.

The lesson:
People love (short) brand videos.  66% of Twitter users regularly watch brand videos, 49% retweet video content, on Facebook, videos are shared 10x more than on YouTube and viewer enjoyment of brand videos result in 97% higher purchase intent and 139% higher brand association (source).  So get creative, whip out your mobile and channel your inner Scorsese to get your customers engaged, drum up new business and generally boost the profile of your brand in a fun and interesting way.

5. KLM’s happy to help campaign
During the week of the social media campaign, KLM set up a control room in front of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport where they monitored thousands of tweets coming in from unhappy airline travelers. They paid special attention to customers having trouble with other airlines. Then, they came to the rescue, retrieving forgotten visas, delivering a bed for a stranded traveler, and even singing a lullaby for someone who couldn’t sleep!

 KLM Happy to help

The lesson:
As a rule, exploiting other people’s (brand’s) misfortunes is generally frowned upon but when it boils down to offering better service over and above that of what customers are currently receiving, well, who can argue with that?  If your restaurant, bar or café is located next to a train station and you know there have been major cancellations due to bad weather and passengers are up in arms shouting blue murder on Twitter then why not swoop in and become the hero?  Communicate with them directly offering disgruntled passengers immediate sanctuary at your venue.  Or if you’re located near a museum or theatre and you see a lot of tourists tweeting about visiting or sharing photos outside a landmark, why not make use of the fact they’re just around the corner and offer them an insight into the tasty treats or refreshing beverages you serve enticing them to visit?