An Inside Look at IHOP’s Social Media War Room on National Pancake Day

Tweets on fleek

Headshot of Katie Richards

Tuesday was a glorious day that had high school kids ditching school and pancake fiends pledging their undying love to a fast-casual restaurant chain. Tuesday was National Pancake Day, and IHOP made sure everyone on social media knew all about it, setting up a social war room in MRM//McCann's New York headquarters for the day.

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Since 2006, IHOP has offered up a free short stack (three pancakes) to customers across the country for National Pancake Day. In exchange, the chain suggests diners leave a donation for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals on their way out. Last year, the event raised $3.5 million, and IHOP president Darren Rebelez said he hopes to surpass that number this year.

While fundraising is the central focus of the day, social engagement is another top priority for the team—made up of four core social experts and a team from MRM//McCann. Tuesday, the social-savvy restaurant chain, which used everything from its own Snapchat filter to personalized Twitter GIFs, gained over 10,000 new followers, while the official #NatlPancakeDay hashtag was shared over 38,000 times.

A big part of the day includes monitoring trends that develop on social media and creating real-time content that reflects those comments. Whether it's targeting millennials with a joke about Drake's billboards for his album, or simply creating memes that younger fans will want to share (or retweet nearly 5,000 times), the goal is to connect with followers, 50 percent of who are under 34 years old.

For a brand with 262,000 Twitter followers, 303,000 Instagram followers and over 3 million fans on Facebook, IHOP's social media team is surprisingly lean—especially considering it applies a 1:1 Twitter strategy, working to engage with every single user who tweets at or simply mentions IHOP. The end goal is not just to rack up the followers, but to build relationships with people and drive customers into the stores not just once but over and over again, the team said. 

The team set up a number of screens to keep track of Twitter mentions and trends.  Photo: Laura Mejia, Craft New York

Two of the core team's staffers spent a good part of the day going through all of the brand's mentions and searching through terms including IHOP and National Pancake Day. Overall, the duo helped IHOP reach over 7,000 unique 1:1 engagements, up 190 percent from last year.

In some instances the 1:1 engagements simply result in a conversation between an IHOP diner and the social team. It can be anything from a like, to a short response, to a question answered. On a few occasions, the team even helped get people to commit to going to a location to get a free short stack.

To keep the war room fueled and inspired, a group of IHOP chefs whipped up stacks on stacks of pancakes—complete with the classic dollop of butter and maple syrup—on a portable griddle. And the head chef and vp of culinary innovation was on hand.

At the end of the day, IHOP scored 48,000 direct mentions on Twitter and at its peak saw 115 tweets per minute, with users saying they actually planned to go to an IHOP to get some fluffy, delicious pancakes. The brand's National Pancake Day effort scored a spot as a trending topic on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.