My sister recently shared an e-mail she received with the subject line “You’re an MBA, now it’s time for a PhD.” The e-mail was an invitation to move from being a Master Burrito Ambassador to a member of Chipotle’s Farm Team. She also gave me a tour of the website featuring Chipotle’s new rewards program. The Denver Business Journal covered the rewards program in the fall of last year, with a quotation from Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communication director: “ ‘This is a passion program,’ he said. ‘Through Farm Team, we are looking to identify our most loyal and passionate customers, and giving them tools to share their passion for Chipotle. It’s much more about building evangelism than it is about rewarding frequency.’”
Members of the farm team are invited to enter a special area on Chipotle’s website, where they move through a process of receiving badges and are rewarded every step along the way with free food and prizes like t-shirts. They also receive facts about the farming industry, as well as challenges and issues faced. For example, one fact states, “A 2006 United Nations report found that industrial factory farming produces more greenhouse emissions than the transportation sector worldwide.” Another tells Farm Team members about the challenges in providing consumers with naturally-raised chicken, due to national shortages. Members are encouraged to share these facts through Facebook posts and tweets.
I’ve been impressed and intrigued by Chipotle’s history and marketing approach since Chris Arnold visited my PR students as a guest speaker in one of the classes I taught at the University of Denver. While the company has not been without PR challenges or issues, it has been very effective in engaging consumers through creative communication tactics, and Farm Team is no exception. The following is a list of what makes Farm Team so effective in terms of engagement, offering key takeaways for other social media campaigns.
- Incorporates a gaming strategy. Farm Team members negotiate the website similarly to playing a game, collecting badges and unlocking information and prizes along the way.
- Incentive for engagement. Members are doubly incentivized, through both prizes and a feeling of belonging.
- Invitation-only approach. This is effective in making people feel as if they have been specially selected. It also allows Chipotle to dialogue with its most loyal consumers.
- Corporate social responsibility messaging. Chipotle uses the site as a platform for transparency about issues and challenges related to its industry. It gives consumers the bigger picture and how Chipotle is trying to contribute to improving its industry for consumer and societal benefit.
- Advances a comprehensive strategy. The site is on brand with other Chipotle marketing and is consistent with other external messaging.
- Evangelists spread messages through word of mouth, using social media. Members can tweet and post Facebook status updates, serving as spokespeople for Chipotle and getting messages out at a rate exponentially greater than the organization could do through its own social media avenues.