Panera really does care.

Ellyn Davidson 10/01/12 - 2:00 pm

Have you heard about Panera Cares community cafes? These are wonderful non-profit versions of Panera sandwich shops.  They were created to raise awareness of—and actually relieve—food insecurity.  

Everything in a Panera Cares café is just the same as in a “regular” Panera except for the menu, which has suggested donations instead of hard-and-fast prices. The idea is that you donate what you can afford for your meal. Those who can pay the suggested donations (or more) support the café and allow it to feed the hungry for free—or for an hour of volunteer work.

Other than its moving website, Panera Cares’ social media presence has been scanty. I’ve been troubled by this because I’d love this great non-profit to get more buzz. I also think Panera deserves plenty of credit for creating such an innovative way to fight hunger.

As it turns out, Panera did get a blast of online love recently. But the story was about a caring Panera location, rather than a Panera Cares cafe.

It happened like this: New Hampshire resident Brandon Cook posted a story   about his dying grandmother’s craving for Panera clam chowder, which is made only on Fridays. It wasn’t a Friday when Cook called his local Panera with the request, but the manager made his grandmother a special batch of her favorite soup anyway. She sent over a box of cookies as well. It was a small gesture of kindness more typical of a small business than a huge, corporate chain.

And what do you know, Brandon Cook’s post has generated more than 815,000 “likes” on Facebook and a heap of press recognition.

I love this story. As a social media expert, I also see a few lessons we can all take from it. . .

Even if you don’t always watch social media, it’s always watching  you
I’m sure the manager of that Nashua, NH Panera wasn’t thinking about getting praise on Facebook when she made that extra pot of clam chowder. But the fact is, deeds good and bad can go public at any time. Hopefully that provides added incentive for individuals and companies to be good citizens. It should also remind businesses to keep social media strategies always at the ready so they can manage both good and bad PR.

Going viral is like winning the lottery
A lot of stars have to align for super-buzz to happen. While Panera got lucky this time, hoping to go viral is not a good social media strategy. Instead, you have to use social media (preferably entertaining and innovative social media) to put out your message.

If you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else is going to do it for you. My mother always used to tell me this. As the Panera/Facebook story shows, that’s less true these days, but horn-tooting should still be a crucial part of every business’s strategy. These days, social media is the smartest and most economical way to do it. I for one, hope that Panera Cares increases its online presence so it can get more credit for its philanthropy, and so more people will learn about and visit the Panera Cares cafes. There’s one in Dearborn, Michigan and I will definitely make a point of eating there the next time I’m in the area.

Do you know of any other non-profits that could step up their social media game?

Why Brogan?

We are true partners. With a proven track record of delivering strategic marketing expertise, award-winning creative and real-time, data-driven media, we go above and beyond for our clients to get results. We even guarantee you’ll be delighted.