Taco Bell made headlines last fall when they wiped out their Facebook and Twitter profiles to help drive traffic to their new smartphone app. They deleted all their previous FB posts and tweets, leaving only the cryptic #onlyintheapp to drive people to engage on their phones.
At the time, some saw it as crazy, while others applauded Taco Bell for controlling their own destiny in this way.
“For Taco Bell, the strategy worked out great: After two or three days, the app was ranked first in the Food and Beverages category, beating industry giants such as Starbucks, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts,” writes Sasha Zinevych last week in B2C. (They come up in the third spot on iTunes as of today.)
As Zinevych notes, it might have been a good move for several reasons. She notes that mobile apps are able to offer more to customers than social media, and brands retain greater control of the messaging. Plus, she adds, promoting the app is easier than using the newsfeed.
“Brands don’t have to compete for a newsfeed spot if an app is downloaded, unlike social media, where competition is pretty tough,” she writes.
The other big upside for marketers is the ability to more accurately track the customer experience, and therefore calculate a return on investment. Research has shown that money spent on Facebook is largely wasted. Unlike the social stream, the app allows Taco Bell to push notifications directly to their customers.
“The probability that your social media post is seen by your interested customer is quite low due to high newsfeed competition and new Facebook policies that wipe out brand pages (in fact, only 10-15% of your subscribers generally see any given post),” Zinevych continues. “Meanwhile, the open rate for push notifications are about 90%.”
“While going dark will surely build some buzz around the app, it also cuts Taco Bell’s chances of chatting back and forth with fans on social media,” predicted Lauren Johnson in AdWeek when the app was launched in October.
A peek at their page in the App Store does feature some disgruntled customers, but the issues seem to be more with the app itself than the company or its products. And they are continuing to post on their Facebook page (complete with photo of Conan O’Brien at their test kitchen), and are still active on Twitter. So it appears that whole thing was not a long-term commitment to abandoning social, but a creative strategy to get people talking about their app. The fact that we still are doing just that, four months after the fact, says something.