Restaurant Chain Looks For Location-Specific Trends in Online Reviews

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HoulihansMerchant: Houlihan’s
Size: 85 locations
Market: Nationwide
Platforms: ReviewPush, Facebook, Expion
Bottom Line: Hyperlocal marketing should be a collaborative effort between individual franchisees and their corporate parents.

Managing the online presence of any business is a challenge, but keeping up with customer reviews and social media chatter can be especially difficult for a national chain. As the director of digital marketing at Houlihan’s, a “polished casual” restaurant chain with 85 locations, Natalie Bass is responsible for making sure the company is being found online and communicating with customers through all the most popular digital channels.

Since November 2012, Bass has been using a platform called ReviewPush to monitor the reviews being posted at all 85 Houlihan’s locations. “Reviews play such an important role, not only in search, and helping you show up when someone’s searching for restaurants — but also, people rely on reviews in order to hopefully drive a visit.”

ReviewPush aggregates the reviews being posted on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Foursquare, and sends Bass a daily summary broken down by location and overall rating. “Then we can see, here’s something that needs to be addressed, or we need to get back to this person to show that we’re listening.”

The ReviewPush platform represents a significant departure from how Bass and her team tracked Houlihan’s online reputation previously, using a combination of social monitoring tools and Google Alerts. Not only was the manual process slow, but it was also ineffective. Bass found it difficult to determine which location a customer was talking about when Houlihan’s was mentioned within conversations on Twitter and Facebook, which meant keyword tracking provided very little value.

Bass says it’s more important for multi-location businesses to track reviews now than ever before, in part because of how much prominence Google has started giving local reviews. “Google has changed over the last year. They didn’t used to [make] reviews so prominent, so it necessitated the need for a tool to actually get alerts for their site in particular.”

What Bass does with the information she gathers through ReviewPush’s review aggregation platform depends on the Houlihan’s location. Out of the 85 Houlihan’s establishments, 35 are company-owned. Bass and her team are responsible for managing 100% of the marketing and media spend at those locations. At franchise locations, however, Bass takes more of a back seat approach. “From a franchise perspective, we support their marketing efforts. So if they want to do a media buy, we would create the assets. For a TV campaign or Facebook campaign, we would help them create those assets. But really, they are on their own to determine what they need to market their restaurant.”

Still, Bass says she makes sure to pass along the location-specific trends she sees in ReviewPush’s monthly reports to individual franchise owners, along with links to any specific reviews that warrant attention. “It’s up to [store management] to contact the person who made the review and see how they can help to address the concern.”

Bass works together with the management at individual Houlihan’s establishments to monitor each restaurant’s local Facebook page. “We have a brand page at, and then we have local pages for all of our locations. We utilize a tool called Expion, and that allows us to basically monitor what’s being said on those pages and also publish out … We do a tag-team effort, where local stores can go on and respond and post content, but we also help from a marketing perspective.”

In the coming months, Bass expects Houlihan’s to continue working on mobile marketing initiatives in an effort to drive customer acquisition and loyalty. “We know that people are searching online, especially on their phones and mobile devices.” In addition to redesigning to utilize responsive design, Bass says the company is focusing on mobile when designing email-marketing campaigns. “We know that over 50% of people are opening our emails on mobile devices. [I’m thinking about], how is that? What is that? How’s that coming across? Are our links too small? Can you read it without having to zoom in? All those things [are] at the forefront of our minds right now. Mobile and smartphones have changes the landscape of how people consume information.”

The Takeaway
Corporate brand managers are limited in their ability to help customers resolve complaints or issues that stem from interactions that happened at local establishments, which is why it’s so important that Bass shares the reviews she gathers through ReviewPush with the management at individual Houlihan’s locations. ReviewPush makes this process easier by breaking down reviews by restaurant locations, as well as overall rating. Using the reports that ReviewPush sends out, Bass can tell which locations are doing a great job, which have room for improvement, and which have unresolved issues with customers that need to be addressed.

Like many digital marketing executives, Bass is aware of the impact that mobile usage is having on her email campaigns. With that in mind, she’s taking the necessary steps to ensure customers can view the marketing messages she sends out on their smartphones and tablets, just as easily as they can on a desktop computer.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.