Applebee’s Selfie Sweepstakes Turned Instagram Follows Into Store Sales

The chain let user-curated content be its guide — and then made some special offers aimed at driving local foot traffic.

In 2014, fast-casual chain Applebee’s asked diners to snap a selfie with their favorite 2 for $20 menu item and share it on social media for a chance to win $2000 and a trip to Phoenix, Arizona.

While this “#Fantographer” contest featured the first full integration with CBS Sports — user-generated photos were displayed on in addition to Applebee’s Instagram page — sweepstakes are hardly a new or innovative marketing tactic on their own. But Applebee’s #Fantographer campaign grew its Instagram following by 32 percent and social media engagement by 25 percent in the first month — and the brand reported that it drove “significant” sales of its 2 for $20 menu items. So, what made this mobile effort stand out?

What Applebee’s Did Right

Asking customers to share content in exchange for a prize is certainly a smart way to drive engagement, but Applebee’s went a step further: The chain decided to turn its Instagram account entirely over to its customers.

With the social account solely run by fans, the chain believed that users would be more likely to share their snaps than if they thought they were competing to be chosen for a once a week or once a month feature spot — and it certainly looks to have worked out that way.

And once Applebee’s switched to showcasing only fan-generated content, its Instagram profile pointed to, which quickly explained the campaign and let new followers know how they could get involved.

“Your customers can be your best advocates if you show them how to and give them a reason why,” wrote Holly Glover at Just Drive Media. Essentially, when consumers feel like their feedback and experiences are valued, they’ll share them; and this means not only sharing them with the business, but with their own social networks, which drums up more engagement organically.

Applebee’s has continued the practice to his day, and its Instagram account is still user-curated only, now featuring snaps of diners’ food in lieu of selfies.

Applebee's fantographer

Secondly, in addition to letting diners run the show, Applebee’s has played it smart in its direct interactions with customers.

Since #Fantographer has continued long after the original prize promotion, the chain still looks to ensure that sharers receive something for their efforts — and in a way that drives foot traffic to their local Applebee’s.

After reposting a user’s image on the Applebee’s account, a representative reaches out to the poster via Instagram comment or direct message with a special offer: If the user agrees to share information with the chain — used, presumably, for future targeting and subsequent visit attribution — they receive a special gift from Applebee’s, usually a discount or promotion to be applied to the 2 for $20 meals.

As such, prior customers are more likely to visit their local Applebee’s again — and bring a friend — for more two-person meal goodness.

A little personal engagement in this capacity seems to be going a long way for the chain, especially in the two years since the original launch of the campaign. In the words of enthusiastic user Brooke Brunson, “Oh wow thank you, and I’m really happy like the pic! I will definitely sign up.”

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.