This was first published in the August issue of Franchise Times.

As a consumer, I am a big fan of Einstein Bagels (give me a honey-whole-wheat with honey almond any day), so it makes sense that I would “like” them on Facebook.

Even though I am a fan and although I see them in my stream, I didn’t really pay attention (not even for the free bagel days) until I saw they were having trouble with their giveaways. And then I paid attention because, as a communication professional, I watch pretty closely on how companies handle crisis.

It seemed innocent enough–the digital coupon they had on their Facebook wall wasn’t working. So they posted that something was wrong, they were working to fix it, and they’d let everyone know when the coupons were ready. And then a day went by and they still were having issues. It was a few days before they worked out the kinks, but what I liked about how they handled the situation is they constantly talked to their fans about what was going on and what they were doing to fix it. They were honest in saying they didn’t know how long it would take, but thanked everyone for their patience. And it worked. No one got mad. No one got on their high horse. No one bashed them in the media. They communicated, they fixed the issue, and fans had their coupons.

Impressed by how they communicated to their fans, how they apologized for the coupons not working, and how they fixed the issue, I wanted to talk to them about how Facebook has helped them grow their online presence.

I caught up with James O’Reilly, the chief concept officer at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group to discuss just that, their return-on-investment, and to find out what’s next.

Q. You wanted to grow your Facebook presence and to do that, you gave away coupons for free bagels. Do you feel this is the only way to build a following quickly?

A. There are many ways to grow a strong following on Facebook. As a smaller advertiser in the restaurant space, we intended to execute an idea with consumer breakthrough. In addition, we wanted to give as many consumers as possible a chance to try our freshly baked bagels because we know that their freshness, quality and taste will win consumers over every time. We succeeded on both fronts and we now have a valuable fan base on Facebook that we are engaging on a regular basis.

Q. It’s clear you had success with the free bagel giveaway. People had to download coupons from Facebook and bring them into the store. How many were new versus returning consumers?

A. The Facebook initiative drove visits among new consumers and also frequency among existing consumers.

Q. With the huge jump in your online fan base (Einstein went from 4,700 to 613,703 Facebook fans), what have you learned and have you made any changes based on the new direct connection you have with your audience?

A. Our fans on Facebook are a smart and vocal group of consumers. We are learning a lot from them and engaging with them in a variety of ways. Our approaches range from asking questions on flavors and new products, providing ongoing value via digital coupons, and providing direct responses on issues such as ingredients and customer service. Facebook is a marketing medium in itself but not a traditional medium like television or radio. It is a truly dynamic two-way medium and offers marketers brand-building opportunities like never before.

Q. What kind of return-on-investment have you had through your Facebook campaign?

A. I can’t get into specific details but I can tell you that we are pleased with the ROI on our Facebook investment.

Q. What’s next?

A. We are nowhere near declaring victory with our Facebook initiatives; in fact I believe we are at the very beginning of tapping into this medium and developing a substantive two-way dialogue with a very large group of savvy consumers. We plan to continue building our presence in social media with a focus on Facebook and have a number of exciting new initiatives in the works.

What can you take away from this campaign to see success in your own initiatives?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich