Secret Sauce: Is Social Media the Hidden Key for Ghost Kitchen Brand Growth?

Delivery-only ghost kitchens are on track to become a trillion-dollar business over the course of the next 10 years. This model enables easier adaptation to changing diner habits (as opposed to traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants), especially during a time when many restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. Online delivery service usage also jumped by almost 25% between 2019 and 2020, with nearly two in five consumers saying they’re likely to continue this behavior even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided. 

With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that big brands like Modern MarketRed Robin and Chili’s are launching virtual-only ghost kitchen brands. But with this onslaught of new brands comes increased competition for consumers in the digital and delivery space. The previous set-it-and-forget-it approach to ghost kitchen brand building has led many to consider surplus marketing initiatives, including launching social media profiles for these brands. But is this the right move?  

First, let’s look at the landscape. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital behaviors beyond just boosting online restaurant orders. In fact, a recent study from McKinsey & Company estimates that the digitization of products and services has accelerated by 60% in North America—or the equivalent of six years—over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has also changed consumers’ threshold to try new things, and “availability” became the number-two reason U.S. consumers were willing to try a new brand during Q3 of 2020. It turns out that ghost kitchen brands were great responses to both changes. 

At the same time, social media behavior accelerated and changed. During the first few months of the pandemic, more than 43% of social media users between age 16–64 said they spent more time on social media (and planned to keep it up post-pandemic). Additionally, time spent on social media increased nearly 10% year-over-year for an average of 82 minutes per day. But more time spent on social media combined with somewhat doom-y offline news has fostered a potentially more jaded social media user. 

Trust in information found on social media is the lowest it’s been in over a decade—only one in three social media users say they trust the information they find on social. This is perhaps why nearly half (45%) of social media users say transparency is what makes a brand best-in-class on social. Together, a lack of trust found in information found on social media and the desire for transparency from brands clearly demonstrates that being transparent about their relationship with a parent company is instrumental to social helping accelerate it. Let’s take Chili’s brand, It’s Just Wings, as an example. The brand is making financial waves that are likely due to its highly discoverable social footprint. The brand launched on social with a handful of posts on Facebook and Instagram but, at the same time, left both the brand and its social presence vulnerable without consistent community management.   

 Nine in ten consumers read businesses’ responses to reviews posted on their social media channels, which essentially means that nearly 90% of consumers expect brands to respond to reviews shared online. Additionally, one in three users say that if they do not receive a prompt response from a brand when they share an experience with them, they’re likely to turn to a competitor instead. Users also trust negative reviews far more than they trust positive ones; in fact, it takes 40x more positive experiences to undo the damage of one negative review. It’s Just Wings is lucky that a majority of consumer reviews are positive, otherwise it would require a full-time, dedicated community manager to combat its negative reviews (most of which are tied to product quality or the undisclosed connection between It’s Just Wings and Chili’s). This indicates that ongoing community management would be a must for any ghost kitchen brand looking to successfully launch a presence on social.  

All of this leads to the question of whether social is a key component in helping these brands grow. The short answer is “of course.” With limited (almost zero) effort, It’s Just Wings earned over 22K followers in less than 10 months, making the brand’s footprint immediately discoverable in search. Ghost kitchen brands’ social presences also provide added validity to a digital-only storefront. That said, while social can accelerate growth, launching social profiles isn’t always the right move. To do it correctly, a brand should have ongoing creative and community management resources. Therefore, a ghost kitchen brand should use social to accelerate growth if—and only if—the parent company/funder is dedicated to the brand’s long-term success. These ghost kitchens may change the future of the restaurant business, and social will be right alongside them if the efforts are made properly. 

Contributed by: Susan Parsons, Director of Social Media & Content, Integer Denver
Image Source: Unsplash