Public Relations in the Fast Food Industry


Fast food restaurants offer certain food items that require minimal preparation time and are delivered through quick services. They are also referred to as quick-service restaurants(QSR). They offer minimal table service and are inclined to a takeout oriented strategy. The restaurants may offer food or beverages as part of their collection. The fast-food industry is rapidly growing with indications of a 4% growth between 2014 to 2019 with the U.S fast food market estimated to be worth $ 250 billion (Bragg, Pageot, Amico, Miller, Gasbarre, Rummo and Elbel, 2020). The major competitors in the multibillion-dollar industry in the U.S are McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks. These companies rely on public relations for visibility to increase sales hence extensively use social media sites to convey messages to consumers. The sites used include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Analysis of Social Media Presence in Fast Food Companies

McDonald’s is the biggest fast-food restaurant in the U.S in terms of revenue.  The company was established in 1940, and its headquarters are based in Chicago. The company has 14,146 outlets in the country, the second-highest number of outlets among fast-food joints. McDonald’s has the largest audience in terms of social media followers, with 86 million users across all regions and platforms. The company has more than 78.5 million followers on Facebook. Facebook is the leading social media platform in terms of users; hence is at the core of the public relation and marketing strategy (Cawsey and Rowley, 2016). The company has more than 3.6 million twitter followers and 3.3 million followers on Instagram.

The company uses You tube less intensively as its follower’s amount to 400 thousand. McDonald’s use Facebook mainly for promotions due to its large customer base while also using it to some extent to respond to people’s recommendations or complaints.  Twitter is used for marketing and interactions due to its suitability for real-time content distribution. The topics posted on social sites are used to make the channels feel personal and friendly such as retweeting a tweet by a user mentioning McDonald’s. The number of tweets and retweets on the platform shows impressive engagement. The company focuses on infographic images and statements as the designated social media approach as opposed to video marketing, as depicted by their inferior social media presence on YouTube, having 65 videos on the site.

Starbucks is an American coffee company and coffeehouse chain that was founded in 1971 in Seattle, Washington. It is the world’s leading coffee retailer with 6,250 outlets in the U.S. The company has established its presence in social media, as shown by its large fan base boasting 67 million users across all platforms. The company has more than 35 million followers on Facebook.  Facebook works as a marketing and customer service platform. The company has 11.1 million twitter followers and serves as the main media with the most customer engagements (Krishna, 2018). They predominantly use fan-submitted images with witty headlines to stir up engagements on twitter, where they averaged 155 tweets each day with a 99% engagement level.

Starbucks has over 18 million Instagram followers, the largest fan base, among other fast food joints. Starbucks is using Instagram intensively as it boasts successful launches in its products on the site, such as Unicorn Frappuccino and Pumpkin Spice Latte (Palmatier and Steinhoff, 2019). Starbucks has also introduced Instagram stories to engage with users by sharing videos of employees to show the human side of the brand. Starbucks has 268 thousand subscribers on YouTube and has uploaded 567 videos. The videos are designed to showcase product-related videos based on life inside the stores. However, the level of engagement on the site is limited.

Subway is a restaurant chain that specializes in submarine sandwiches. The company was established in 1965 and had its headquarters in Milford, Connecticut. The company is the largest in terms of retail outlets in the U.S., with 24,014 outlets countrywide. The company has an active presence on all social media platforms as it promotes products and engages customers like other QSR brands. However, it does not use this public relations strategy intensively. Subway has 24 million followers on Facebook and 2.3 million Twitter followers.

The topics posted are mostly promotional with little to do with customer feedback, where the media platforms limited to one post or tweet a day. The company is one of the few fast-food restaurants serving healthy menu cuisines that emphasizes good health attributes in its promotional messages. Subway has sent a total of about 87 thousand tweets until now, a relatively low compared to other major fast-food companies. Subway has 1.2 million followers on Instagram, where posts range from images to videos of the sandwiches served. The company has 92.1 thousand YouTube subscribers. Subway policies show that video making s not integral in its public relation strategy. This is shown by the level of customer engagement, which is relatively low as out of the videos posted, most have received less than 20 thousand views.


In terms of social media reach, McDonald’s is by far the largest of the three companies by having the biggest fan base overall while Subway emerge the smallest firm. McDonald’s and Starbucks use Facebook and Twitter as their main social media platforms. The two companies use a similar strategy where Facebook posts are mainly promotional, while Twitter is used for interactions with the customers. Facebook is chosen due to its large audience of 2.2 billion monthly users. At the same time, the real-time twitter feature gives the companies the upper hand in customer service as the responses are instantaneous. Subway use of Facebook and Twitter is limited due to its low fan base.

Starbucks is highly effective in utilizing Instagram capabilities and also has the highest followers. The company launches its products on Instagram by using hashtags and turning customers into content creators for the brand. YouTube is the most under-utilized among the four social media sites. All three competitors have few followers compared to the other social media sites; thus, their engagements on the site are limited to a few videos. In terms of social media interactions and engagements, Starbucks takes the prize.

Recommendations to Subway

Due to their low presence on various platforms, the social media strategy of Subway is in need of an overhaul. The company is effective in its quality and fast delivery but has maintained a medium presence on social sites leading to the company being overtaken by Starbucks and McDonald’s. The company can improve its presence on social sites by attaching each social media site to s specified role. The company can use Facebook as a brand awareness tool where quality content is posted to inform the audience of various available products. This can be done during peak lunch hours on weekdays when a sizeable audience is on breaks. This is because most of the activity on Facebook happens during this time.

The company’s Twitter platform is appropriate for customer feedback, and it should be at the forefront of exploiting this opportunity. Twitter’s real-time feature makes it easier to give customer feedback and engage them personally. Tweets get mentions and improves the company exposure. This can be utilized to increase the number of followers; thus, the company will have increased the message reach.  Twitter can be utilized in crisis management as it quells the negative criticisms before it blows up (Orozco, 2016). The crisis involving Jared Fogle, their former spokesman, led to the company closing over 1000 stores due to negative public relations.  Instagram can be used to launch new products that the company is unveiling.

When launching a product on Instagram, the company can interact with the users to make them feel part of the company. This will, in turn, increase the number of mentions as the followers act as brand advocates reaching to other users through the use of hashtags. Subway should exploit the niche in public relations by using YouTube videos to their advantage (Carlson, Rahman, Voola, and De Vries, 2018). Videos are an essential part of public relations and can be used to generate excitement and drive user engagements. The company can create a series showcasing videos of satisfied customers who give recommendations to other social media users to try the products. This will increase the reviews of the videos posted, thus improving its social media presence.




Bragg, M. A., Pageot, Y. K., Amico, A., Miller, A. N., Gasbarre, A., Rummo, P. E., & Elbel, B. (2020). Fast food, beverage, and snack brands on social media in the United States: An examination of marketing techniques utilized in 2000 brand posts. Pediatric Obesity, 15(5), e12606.

Carlson, J., Rahman, M., Voola, R., & De Vries, N. (2018). Customer engagement behaviors in social media: capturing innovation opportunities. Journal of Services Marketing.

Cawsey, T., & Rowley, J. (2016). Social media brand building strategies in B2B companies. Marketing Intelligence & Planning.

Krishna, C. G. (2018). Starbucks Communication Strategies–More Than Just a Cup of Coffee. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 12(3), 23-53.

Orozco, D. (2016). Using social media in business disputes. MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(2), 33.

Palmatier, R. W., & Steinhoff, L. (2019). Relationship marketing in the digital age. Routledge.

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