Domino's tweet-to-eat campaign is sneaky social media at its best

Ordering a pizza via Twitter isn't faster or more convenient than submitting the same entry through the company's mobile app. But it does have one huge advantage — enjoyed almost entirely by Domino's.

supreme pizza
Credit: Scott Bauer, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When the Domino's pizza chain announced on Wednesday (May 20) that it can now take pizza orders via Twitter, it was part of the chain's buy-anywhere-anyhow campaign. The rationale is that customers can stay within whatever media form they are using — social media, mobile, desktop, Apple Watch, etc. — and order a pizza without having to switch media.

dominos tweet

That's all true, but ordering a pizza via Twitter isn't faster or more convenient than submitting the same entry through Domino's mobile app. But it does have one huge advantage — enjoyed almost entirely by Domino's. When a consumer uses any of the other means of interacting with Domino's, it's private. But the very nature of a Twitter purchase is in-your-face public, with each purchase a public shout-out for the chain, encouraging all of that person's followers to do the same.

The consumer needs to follow Domino's — and Domino's will follow them back — to allow for the reciprocal direct messaging that is used to verify the purchase and the delivery order. It's the ultimate social media tactic and it's predicated on a reality that is pure Domino's marketing. I say that it's pure Domino's marketing because the message is one that no other major company has ever tried: We used to be awful and now we're better.

That message was best articulated a few years ago by comedian Stephen Colbert, back when Domino's was one of his largest sponsors. In a phone interview on Thursday, Domino's spokesman Tim McIntyre said the social media campaign is intended to stress the point that consumers — especially younger consumers — like Domino's now and are not hesitant to shout that support in front of their friends. Or as McIntyre put it: "We have a brand where people are no longer embarrassed to order." (What a great presidential campaign slogan: "Vote Smith for President. He's not nearly as embarrassing as he used to be.")

But McIntyre's point was serious and it's legitimate. The fact that consumers are willing to trumpet that they are purchasing from a specific retailer is arguably the best endorsement of that brand.

The Twitter buy is the latest from Domino's ordering options — something Domino's calls AnyWare — and it now consists of Samsung Smart TV, Pebble smartwatch app, Android Wear smartwatch app, Ford SYNC AppLink and a voice-recognition mobile app called Dom.

The Domino's tweet-to-eat front-end process is straightforward. Customers tweet #EasyOrder or a pizza slice emoji to @Dominos. The Twitter purchases are designed to be quick and easy, but to do that, Domino's had to place several restrictions. The customer must have previously created a Domino's profile and the order must be identical to the default order on file within that profile and it must go to the default address on file and it must be paid by the default payment method. Consumers must also add their Twitter handle to their profiles.

How often will consumers be in that situation? Dennis Maloney, vice president/chief digital officer for Domino's, said that situation — "two orders in a row that are exactly the same" — accounts for fewer than 10% of all Domino's orders, meaning that it won't work for more than 90% of all orders. That said, Maloney added, Domino's will sell more than 400 million pizzas this year, so even 9% of all orders is a lot of pizzas.

Will consumers really want to shout to their friends about their Domino's orders? Maloney said that he thinks they will. "Twitter is, by default, an open public forum. The folks on Twitter tend to be much more public about their opinions," he said.

Added McIntyre: "This is a generation that wants everybody to know everything that they are doing. They take pictures of themselves and they tweet about the color of socks that they are wearing. They don't mind their personal brand being associated with our brand."

A quick aside: For those who don't mind getting ultra-geeky, here's the nerdiest stat I've seen from any pizza company. Some Domino's accountants calculated that there are literally 34,106,712 different pizza combinations available from Domino's. When I doubted the figures, Maloney shared the data. It starts with 22 available toppings and an option for extra cheese, which gets us to 23 elements. When you mix and match every topping with every other topping, that gets the pizza options to 2,842,226. When the calculation factors in four crust types, three sizes and sauce options, that gets the number to more than 34 million.

And it can get worse at some locations, the chain said, because franchisee owners often add their own regional topping, crust and even size options. "For example, adding a 16" extra-large pizza to the size options increases the number of ways to order one pizza from a Domino's store from 34 million combinations to over 45 million possible combinations." I'll now exit ultra-geekiness.

There are some mild security concerns when placing orders through Twitter. First, fake pizza delivery orders are a time-honored prank, one that has been reduced slightly by Caller-ID. But if someone can hack into a consumer's Twitter account — one password is all that is needed — pizza orders can then be made and confirmed, with almost no way to track it back to the prankster. (The prank is slightly mitigated by the limitation of purchasing the default order, which negates the usual nastiness of making it an order for 20 pizzas.)

The second concern is the public nature of Twitter. A very large number of companies ask consumers for — and are granted — permission to send messages on their behalf via Twitter. Therefore, any of those companies — and their employees and select contractors — could make these purchases. Granted, other than mischief, there is little to be gained by doing so, but that kind of password-sharing simply doesn't happen with desktop, mobile or watch-based communications.

Maloney said that there were a few technical hiccups — "bumps in the road," he said — when connecting "the back-end systems between us and Twitter," but he declined to specify what they were or how they were fixed.  

But the basic system constantly monitors Twitter, searching for direct messages with the exact keywords. It then checks the database, searching for that Twitter account among registered users. If a match is found, the system "fires off the confirmation message and listens again to see if the person confirms within 20 minutes," Maloney said. The software then calculates the numbers of orders for the selected store, the distance to the consumer's location, the time it should take to make that item and the available staffing at that location. "We teach the software to do the math" to determine a rough delivery estimate.

I tested the system — it was lunchtime, after all — and it correctly calculated delivery time within eight minutes. It glitched a few times — the status in the mobile app stayed on "in oven" for more than an hour after the pizza had been delivered and a phantom side order of red peppers (which had been neither ordered nor delivered nor charged for) also appeared in the mobile app — but pretty much worked as intended.

The Domino's Twitter system is strong evidence that Domino's understands social media marketing and truly gets its customers. Social media is so much more than posting lots of meaningful, informational and useful updates and responding to customers when they post complaints — although those are both essential. People post to share with friends and they choose what they want to say. The act of posting reflects pride and sometimes even passion.

In many communities, there is a lengthy list of options for pizzas. The best way to rebuild a brand is to get people comfortable again with that brand. The best way to do that is through seeing that friends and neighbors are already doing it. The people who look at the Domino's Twitter program and think it's merely a different way to purchase pizza don't get Domino's. And they probably also don't get social media. Domino's will Tweet itself to the bank, thin crust and all.

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