Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint launched three years ago in Atlanta and expects to have 20 restaurants open by the end of 2012, with 125 more stores in development throughout the Southeast.
The growing fast casual concept is crediting its rapid growth in part to its "aggressive" social media marketing efforts. Since January, Uncle Maddio's has experienced a 12-percent increase in Facebook "likes." It also has an active presence on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Yelp, Foursquare and Urbanspoon.
Uncle Maddio's two most recent store openings in August and September were promoted almost entirely through social media – and the company considered both launches to be a success.
Also, from January to September, Uncle Maddio's has increased customer engagement on Facebook by 260 percent.
"Social media is today's 'word-of-mouth and it spreads a lot faster and farther,'" said Sherean Malekzadeh Allen, Uncle Maddio's marketing director. "Uncle Maddio's is successful online because when our customers talk, we're there to listen and respond – whether we're thanking a customer for their kind words or addressing the occasional sub-par experience. Customer service doesn't stop at the four walls anymore."
Uncle Maddio's marketing staff monitors customer comments daily and generally responds within one to two hours. On Twitter, Uncle Maddio's retweets and thanks everyone who mentions the restaurant. On Foursquare, the company thanks each customer who checks in.
"We maintain the same high standard of customer service online as we do in our restaurants," said Matt Andrew, Uncle Maddio's founder and Chief Pizza Maker. "While it's become commonplace to 'check in' online, we don't take it for granted. Every check in, every like, every comment – each one is a link in the chain to building our brand."
On Facebook, Uncle Maddio's encourages new followers to claim a free 9-inch pizza to encourage trial and build their customer database. Uncle Maddio's provides the voucher through a third-party app that collects an email address for each pizza claimed. Facebook users are encouraged to share the voucher with their friends, further extending the brand.
"We induce trial through 'Be Our Guest VIP Cards' knowing that once a customer tastes our food, they'll come back as a paying customer – and tell their friends," Andrew said. "Handing out free pizza is more effective and cost effective than any traditional mainstream media campaign."
Recently, Uncle Maddio's extended its social media efforts to Pinterest to attract the female demographic. Uncle Maddio's Pinterest boards are dedicated to topics such as gluten-free and vegan recipes, the ingredient of the month, kids' crafts and fun food creations, food art and kitchen interiors.
"Social media makes the world a smaller place," says Malekzadeh-Allen. "It has the power to turn the corner pizza joint into a nationally-recognized brand."
Read more about social media initiatives.