Paul Barron Explores Restaurants, Social Media with me and Tom O'Keefe. We have an Ice Cream Date!

I was delighted to be invited to appear as a guest on Coco TV, the brainchild of Paul Barron (The Chipotle Effect) who seeks to "help restaurants change the planet." Peruse Paul's site, DigitalCoco to see more about what they're doing to help companies harness analytics. Tom (AKA Boston Tweet) and I were chosen to share our thoughts on how "local" and "social" intersect here in Boston. (Funny our first "Tom and Jackie" show was on pizza and this one ends with ice cream. How is it I got this damn dairy allergy again?) Barron is taking his show on the virtual road, filming a series across ten US cities investigating what influencers are seeing in local markets. How are restaurants using social media to enhance, broaden and deepen their relationships with consumers? What trends are emerging?

I caught up with Paul for some follow up questions while he was en route to present at a conference in Miami. It was a fascinating conversation reaching into future and reflecting on the changes he's seen in the fast casual restaurant segment since his early days at Microsoft.

Back to the Future

In the early days of technology's presence in restaurants, the industry resisted the use of POS touch screens that are today, ubiquitous. "It was like we were bringing them something from Mars. They were still using registers and paper tickets. A restaurant that might've been doing $700 could increase sales to 1.2 million with the right technology." Will tablets replace the touch screens? Perhaps.

Barron sees a parallel with social media in that many in the industry are almost being dragged into the world of social media. "Now when we can show them that consumers, armed with smart phones, can be your best evangelists or your worst enemies. When we analyze the data from venue check-ins, Instagram, etc. we see overlap. In the sandwich segment, we're tracking the top 50 brands. The top 5 in social media stats, were also in the top ten in venue mentions. We went one layer one more and found that these top five also had higher - 70% higher - referral scores in Trip Advisor and Yelp. That's pretty significant ROI, it shows social and local work to increase positive reviews and referrals."

The technology available to consumers today, the use of apps and the drive toward social media connections is as revolutionary, maybe the first real overhaul in the industry since the invention of the automobile.

Beyond an Accumulation of Likes

I asked Paul what companies are doing besides accumulating "Likes" on Facebook. "Most companies are not analyzing the data they get from Facebook, etc. There is gold in that data. If they can starts to identify patterns including  what we call “circular patterns”, they will reap huge rewards."

"For example, if you "Like" J.P. Licks on Facebook, and you're connected to me. And even if I had never heard of J.P. Licks, don't even live in Boston, but we are connected and share an interest in culinary, I can become a fan because of your influence. I travel to Boston frequently, I can become a customer and a fan. Imagine all the people in your circles that live in Boston..."

"Companies have this gold mine of the connections, the audience, your "likes" connect your people and your brands. It's huge."

Beyond that? "Cross-competitive data set, THAT analysis, will be the next frontier, we have just begun to scrape the surface, seeing some trends in more advanced brands like Starbucks are starting down the path. Who in your circle is eating elsewhere that might be eating instead at my restaurant?"

Predictions and Ice Cream

Paul shared an intriguing prediction. In the future, Facebook and Twitter will go the way of MySpace. These closed networks will flourish for a few more years, and more open networks will emerge. Leading brands that embrace technology will create their own open network. "Starbucks has 30 million facebook fans - that could swing the election - imagine that influence if Starbucks picked a side and influenced 30 million fans..."

Facebook and Twitter don't know it yet, but their days may be numbered if Barron is correct.

"Social poaching, it's starting already. Brands are starting to take their own audience to their own networks. Look at what Red Bull is doing on YouTube. It's not just selling energy drinks. With its YouTube content creation, it will become the ESPN of YouTube. If brands are smart, they'll realize they are not selling a product as much as they are selling a lifestyle. They're connecting consumers to their brand. This could completely shift the way the landscape looks today."

"Starbucks is sort of doing it on their digital network, imagine what is possible, it could reformat media, journalism." said Barron.

I hope to be on the side of those doing that reformatting, along with Paul and other forward-thinkers. For my part, I think of the social media as the kitchen in the virtual house party. We gravitate there and the fun starts when come together over a meal.

Nothing is more exciting than thinking about the ways the food on our plate can not only bring us together but also make the world a better place. Thanks Paul, for sharing your thoughts on this exciting time and the changes you're seeing.

And next time you're in Boston, J.P. Licks is on me!



  • What are your observations about how Boston restaurants use Social Media?
  • Who's getting it right? Who could do better and how?