What Can We Learn from the Subway Battered Online Reputation?

What Can We Learn from Subway’s Battered Online Reputation?

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The biggest story to come out of the Nation’s Restaurant News’ Top 500 rankings in 2023 wasn’t who was on top, but that Subway reputation issues had tumbled it to the bottom.

After decades of expansion that led to Subway becoming the world’s largest fast food chain in terms of locations by the early 2000s, the company has been on a precipitous slide. Recent challenges led to Subway being the only company in the NRN’s Top 500 Report to report a net loss in sales.

For anyone who’s been tracking Subway’s online reputation, those sales figures were no surprise.

According to a new study that ranks U.S. fast food chains based on their online reputation, Subway is at the bottom of the list. The study, conducted by analysts at the marketing platform SOCi, used AI to evaluate more than 100 different signals across Google, Yelp, and Facebook for every location for all the top fast food chains. Researchers analyzed thousands of locations for the rate of new reviews, average number of reviews per location, mix of positive and negative reviews, response times, and average ratings. 

To focus on the top restaurant chains, the analysis applied selection criteria, considering only chains with hundreds or thousands of locations, leading annual sales figures, broad geographic or global presence, strong brand recognition, and a track record of success over time. Researchers from SOCi found that, as the bottom-ranking restaurant in the analysis, Subway’s score was 60% lower than the average, while the top ranked restaurant chain — Chick-fil-A — scored 47% higher than average.

One major factor contributing to Subway’s low scores was “ghosting,” where companies ignore online feedback. According to SOCi, ghosting costs U.S. restaurant chains $14.07 billion in lost value each year.

When restaurant chains engage in ghosting, they miss out on valuable opportunities to connect with their customers, address concerns, and showcase their commitment to customer satisfaction. This lack of engagement can significantly impact a company’s online reputation, particularly in the case of restaurant chains, leading to a variety of negative consequences.

“Ghosting is bad for customers and has serious financial implications for brands,” said SOCi Chief Marketing Officer Monica Ho. “By quantifying the damage, we hope to underscore the critical need for brands to proactively manage their online reputation and address customer feedback — both positive and negative.”

The bottom five restaurants in SOCi’s online reputation analysis were Little Caesars, Domino’s, Cinnabon, Baskin Robbins, and Subway. 

At the top of the list were restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Five Guys, Dairy Queen, Sonic Drive-In, and Chipotle.

SOCi found that as the top-ranked restaurant in the analysis, Chick-fil-A outperformed Subway by 267%. Top-performing chains in the analysis were nearly 3x more effective at managing their online reputation. 

Burger chains also tended to rank higher in online reputation, with Chick-fil-A, Five Guys, and Sonic taking three out of the top five spots.

“Local visibility and online reputation are two sides of the same coin,” explained Ho. “As our analysis shows, a restaurant’s proactive and positive engagement with its online audience is instrumental in boosting local visibility and, ultimately, business success. Brands that understand this have a competitive edge. They not only demonstrate their commitment to their customers but also maximize their reach within their local markets.” 

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.