How Denny's Weirdness Wins the Social Media Game

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Restaurant chains' social media accounts are usually predictable, filled with food photos, promotions and deals.

Then, there's Denny's.

Instead of sticking to traditional scripts of promotions and deals, Denny's social media posts are more like that of a teenager. Denny's Twitter is full of commentary on pop culture, live blogging Saturday Night Live and engaging One Direction's boy band member Liam Payne after he ranted on social media about the stress of celebrity life.

 

Related: HBO Hedges on Social Media to Reach 'Challenging' Demographic

Perhaps Denny's weirdest foray into social media is the company's Tumblr. The teen-friendly blogging platform encourages a niche sense of community, with enthusiastic response for Denny's more eccentric postings. A recent series is Denny's "Build Your Own Gif," which creates moving gifs based off of reader suggestions. Selections include ducklings eating mozzarella sticks and a pug paddling a boat through a sea of ranch dressing

Other social media efforts of the chain include a Facebook page, which contains similar content to the Tumblr, and an Instagram, which featured a weekly "Elvish Made Easy" series this fall. 

 

The chain's unique voice online is a sign that the chain is looking for ways to differentiate itself in the increasingly crowded fast-casual space. Established chains have struggled with capturing the fresh, modern appeal of new fast-casuals, such as Noodles and Co. and Chipotle. Some restaurants, such as Pizza Hut and Domino's, are attempting to reenergize their brands by offering new items and redesigning units. Darden is shedding Red Lobster to focus on newer, faster growing options including LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille. Denny's focus on social media, with self-aware and timely pop culture references, has a similar goal of portraying a veteran chain as a young, savvy brand.

 

Related: Is This the Year Fast-Food Pizza Disappears?

Denny's last week reported a same-store sales increase of 0.9 percent for the fourth quarter, marking the 10th quarter of the last 11 quarters that the company has seen positive same-store gains. Denny's opened 19 franchise restaurants in the fourth quarter, and closed five system-wide restaurants. 

The results are more promising in the light of its competitors' declines. Last quarter, Ruby Tuesday saw a 7.8 percent decline in same-restaurant sales at company-owned restaurants and a 5.3 percent drop at franchise restaurants compared to the same quarter a year ago. At Darden, Olive Garden same-store sales dipped 0.6 percent and Red Lobster sales fell 4.5 percent from the same quarter last year. 

Will Denny's efforts pay off? It's unclear--but there's no question that the restaurant is standing out online.  

Related: Franchising for Entrepreneurs: An Entrepreneur Growth Conference Panel Preview

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