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I just returned from a business trip in Minneapolis and Iowa State this past week and wanted to write an article about my horrible experience with US Customs (Unbelievable that they can get away with what they do with no accountability). However, instead of focusing on the negative, I want to share a positive story about my experience with Panchero’s Mexican Grill via Twitter.

For those of you that don’t know, Panchero’s Mexican Grill is a quick-serve, fresh-Mexican franchise that is know for it’s fresh-pressed tortillas. The franchise headquarters are located in Coralville, Iowa and currently has over 50 locations in the United States with plans for extensive expansion in 2010.

Panchero’s – Twitter Experience

So, to give you a little bit of a background, I was in Ames, IA doing social media consulting, presentations and workshops with the Cyclone Hockey program. Following my meeting with the Iowa State Athletic Department, I decided to take advantage of a free burrito voucher given to me by the team. We do not have Panchero’s Mexican Burrito restaurants in Canada, so, this was my first time visiting the franchise.

Upon approaching the order counter, I noticed that Panchero’s was displaying the “Follow Us on Twitter” and “Find Us On Facebook” logos and also asked patrons to check them out online on their blog (http://bobmyburrito.com).  Of course, being in the social media industry, I was very impressed that this franchise had the foresight to prominently display these logos.

With that in mind, I quickly followed @Pancheros on Twitter and mentioned them in a Tweet.

Again, being deeply involved in the social media world and having many positive experiences to draw on (including my experience with @WestJet), I am still skeptical at times on whether or not businesses are willing to embrace these new tools for what they are……..a two-way conversation….not a broadcasting tool.

To my pleasant surprise, I received a response from @Pancheros within a few minutes:

Before engaging directly with the person behind @Pancheros, I quickly tweeted out the following (Yes….I am a big fan of Anchorman and Will Ferrell 😉

And, received the following response within minutes again:

Now, it’s pretty clear that this conversation was nothing more than a little fun banter back and forth as I sat and enjoyed my lunch.  But, what it did was create an experience that I won’t soon forget. As the @Pancheros franchise is not in Canada, I likely wouldn’t have given them another thought leaving the restaurant that day.  But, because A REAL PERSON actually took the time to ask my about my experience, I now have an personal story attached to something as simple as a burrito!

Panchero’s is only one of many examples of how social media can be used as a tool to build loyalty among clients/fans.  But, we are starting to see more and more evidence every day that these tools can be powerful……..if used properly!  The lesson learned here is that setting up a Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account and Blog for your business is only the first step.  Learning how to use these tools properly and finding ways to integrate them into your overall communications and marketing strategy is a completely different beast.  But, it can’t be argued that there is a tremendous opportunity to build buzz about your brand if you are willing to invest the time to educate yourself and engage with these tools!

I have been on Twitter for over 2 years now and can honestly say that this social media tool in particular continues to amaze me with every single conversation and relationship that is built.

Check out Panchero’s Mexican Grill online

If you’d like to know more about Panchero’s, check them out on their social media accounts:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/pancheros
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Pancheros
YouTube: http://youtube.com/PancherosTV
Blog: http://bobmyburrito.com

Also, I have been in touch with the Social Media Manager for @Pancheros and will be interviewing him in the next few days.  We are also talking about doing a LIVE webinar in the near future where he will talk about how they use social media and the results they are seeing from their efforts.  So, stay tuned for information on how you can register for this event!

Social Media Nightmare – Brixx Pizza

Now, we have all seen our fair share of social media success stories and failures.  And, unfortunately for many businesses, the fear of negative feedback causes many of them to steer clear of social media instead of embracing the fact that people are going to talk about their business online whether they like it or not. What social media does is allows them to respond to negative feedback and use it as an opportunity to turn a disgruntled client into a loyal advocate!

To give you an example of how NOT to use social media, I’m going to reference a story I came across the other day. An employee at Brixx Pizza in Charlotte, NC was recently fired for voicing her disgust to the world via Facebook about a small tip she received. To her surprise, she was told a few days later that she was being let go for making derogatory comments about a customer and that this breached the terms set out in her contract as an employee. Now, there are many things that could be said about this situation, but I’m not going to get into a long rant on  “privacy”, “freedom of speech” and “just cause”.  Instead, just take a look at the Brixx Pizza Facebook Fan Page and see what the world has to say about it!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brixx-Wood-Fired-Pizza/84618206631?

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I’m not sure if the Brixx Pizza franchise ever saw this coming, but I can assure you that their executive staff has not slept well the past few nights! Now, I can already hear the response from “skeptical” business owners out there that look at this and say “See…..that’s why I’m not on Facebook!”.  However, the reality is, even if you chose to not have a presence on Facebook, people will find ways and platforms to voice their opinion about your company online.  Having an official Facebook Fan Page at least allows you to monitor those conversations and react appropriately.

If I had any advice for Brixx Pizza, the first thing would be to figure out what you want to say in response to this event, do it quickly and syndicate it across all of your official social accounts! After all, didn’t we learn anything from the Tiger Woods fiasco?? 😉

I’d love to hear your thoughts on both of these stories.  Also, please feel free to share other stories (both positive and negative) about how social media is being used by businesses (big and small).