Connecting the Dots: How Social Media Sentiment Mirrors Growth at Shake Shack


Allene Yue

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably heard about the many many long-standing restaurants that are suddenly going under. But while these eateries like Red Lobster and Rubio’s are going bankrupt, a fast food chain with New York origins has sat in a relatively stable position for a couple of years now: Shake Shack.

Last week, I analyzed how a brand’s Instagram engagement could potentially correlate with their stock price. This time around, I decided to look at how sentiment observed on social media could influence the growth of sales on a quarterly basis by doing a quick experiment on Shake Shack.

Comparing Sentiment Against Sales Growth

Companies in the food industry tend to rely pretty heavily on marketing — especially social media marketing nowadays — to garner traction. Seeing an ad or image online of a juicy burger from Shake Shack might be just what you needed to crave one yourself. At the same time, if you’re a huge fan of Shake Shack (meaning you have highly positive sentiment toward them), you’ll probably be more likely to indulge in their advertisements and media content — maybe enough to give it a like.

No matter which case it is, these ideas propose that social media sentiment might have the power to drive and/or predict sales or revenue growth.

Similarly to our experiment last Tuesday, I looked at the number of likes on Shake Shack’s Instagram posts that were published between 2020 and 2023, with 320 entries total. Keep in mind, I only looked at posts (not reels) solely featuring items on their menu.

After graphing the data out, I could make out a general pattern.

Shake Shack's Instagram Likes Over Time

I then looked at Shake Shack’s revenue growth rates from quarter to quarter along the same time frame and found a pretty similar pattern.

Shake Shack's Revenue Growth Rates Over Time

While it doesn’t seem like the change in social media sentiment necessarily predicted the growth rates for each quarter, there does seem to be some kind of correlation. And this emphasizes just how important social media can be for brands. It shows us that a lack of positive social media sentiment (which is passive behavior on the consumer’s part through a lack of likes) actually ends up telling us a lot about how a customer feels about a brand.

It’s one thing for customers to not engage at all with your social media, but if they do at first and then they stop, that’s a sign their once positive consumer sentiment is becoming more neutral or possibly even pessimistic. This change could be because of your brand, but it could also be because your content is no longer prompting positive associations for your audience anymore.

Either way, this implies that a customer who “churns” from your social media will also churn from your brand pretty soon after. And that ends up being detrimental to your company’s sales and YoY growth.

What Does This Mean?

Like I mentioned before, for some brands (like Express), a lack of social media sentiment can mean poor brand quality or a weak customer experience journey. But people LOVE Shake Shack — it’s a general consensus. The majority of Shake Shack locations are rated pretty highly by customers (with typically at least 4 stars).

Google Maps

However, what’s interesting is that Shake Shack’s number of Instagram posts per year seemed to decline after 2020, which we can infer is a possible contributor to their decline in engagement and sales growth as a result.

Shake Shack's # of Posts Over Time

So although Shake Shack is currently beating quarterly expectations and growth is still steady, it might be worth it for them to keep reminding people a little more often that they exist, whether that’s through increased campaigns, digital advertising, or even just plain marketing in general. By doing what this data is telling them to do, they may just be able to improve sentiment, boost sales, and avoid the same fate as Red Lobster.

There’s a lot your customers can tell you (or show you) if you just listen (and observe).

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