T.G.I. Friday’s Nears 1 Million Fans after Fan Woody Campaign — Now What?

Restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday’s wanted half a million Facebook fans, so it made a limited-time offer to people at the beginning of last month: Become a fan of its page before October, and get a free burger. The campaign was more than successful, at least in terms of getting sign-ups. However, some questions remain about what the company is going to do with the page now.

Today, it has nearly a million users. That’s up from around the 100,000 it had when we wrote about it on September 10th. In fact, the campaign was so popular that it hit the 500,000 mark by September 13th.

The campaign was based around a fictional everyman character named “Woody,” created by T.G.I Friday’s agency, Publicis New York. Woody has appeared on television commercials, YouTube videos, and is active on the Facebook page, posting comments and responding to user complaints in the page’s discussion board. (Or if nothing else, Woody’s representatives have been active.) However, the campaign has been criticized by some marketing blogs as being too artificial. Other restaurants, like Chik-fil-A, have also offered free food, and grown quite large — but they’ve also spent a lot of time building up a fan base through other forms of marketing, like contests.

But for T.G.I. Friday’s, so far, so good. Publicis adapted the campaign to the realities of dealing with excited — if not angry — Facebook masses. After it reached its goal, the company first tried to play down the free burger angle, instead offering some free hot wings at the bars of participating restaurants. Then, seeing the negative reaction on its own Facebook page, it decided to up the offer to 1 million free burgers. Today, as the campaign winds down and the last of the free burgers are distributed (in coupon form), the page has 986,000 fans. So not technically its new goal, but pretty close.

Now comes the big question: What is T.G.I Friday’s going to do with all of these fans? The campaign has helped vault the company to being the 6th largest Facebook restaurant page now – an impressive accomplishment. Because the page and the campaign are based so heavily on the Woody character, we’re assuming that this theme will somehow continue. But we’re guessing there won’t be a constant burger giveaway; and anyway, the fans got their burgers so they have nothing to complain about now.

While building your Facebook fan base around a specific promotion has its advantages, T.G.I Friday’s needs to fine-tune its goals for its Facebook presence in the longer run. One problem is that Woody has been entirely designed around the concept of the free burgers (see his bio on the page for more on that). Drawn from our 8 best practices for restaurants on Facebook, here are some more ideas.

Would the company be okay letting users post on its Wall? It doesn’t currently allow that, but opening up the page might generate more regular engagement between fans themselves, like what Papa John’s does. Perhaps this page will become a clearinghouse for other coupons from the company, like what Baskin-Robbins does? Or maybe, like Pizza Hut, it will develop an application that lets people contact their local restaurant. While Pizza Hut lets you order, T.G.I. Friday’s is a sit-down experience, so maybe an app for making reservations? There are a lot of options, but all of them require forethought and extended commitment in order to work.

But if T.G.I. Friday’s can make this page a valuable new part of its business, expect to see a lot more free food giveaways from restaurant chains on Facebook.