Papa John’s, the Louisville, Ky.-based pizza chain, relied on offline word-of-mouth buzz for most of its history. The brand only started advertising on TV 10 years ago, 15 years after it was created. But that word-of-mouth buzz hadn’t translated into online social networks like Facebook. As of November last year, the brand had precious little presence on the site. “It was small, mostly customers and fans,” said Jim Ensign, vp, marketing communications for the chain.
Papa John’s looked to kickstart its Facebook presence in November with a program that rewarded consumers for becoming fans on Facebook. During a 24-hour period, anyone who became a Papa John’s fan on the social networking site was given an online code which translated into a free pizza. To get the word out, Papa John’s bought a roadblock ad on Facebook and tapped its opt-in e-mail database of hardcore fans.
After two weeks, Papa John’s had 1,800 fans on Facebook and 1,200 wall posts—the bulk of those fans were garnered during the free-pizza period. According to Facebook, 131,000 people became fans within a day. But the momentum has continued. As of last week, Papa John’s claimed 210,000 Facebook fans, which Ensign said made it the second fastest-growing brand on Facebook, next to Michael Phelps. Users tend to be vocal (typical comment left on Papa John’s wall: “Open one in Laguna Beach!”). The brand is keeping up its Facebook presence by offering video and launching the occasional promotion, like a Super Bowl effort that dangled the chance to get a pizza for 25 cents if the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown (didn’t happen). Ensign also is planning a similar effort around the NCAA basketball playoffs this month that will dangle a chance to attend one of the games.