Optimising social media investment

How Subway assessed the impact of social media spend against key competitors

Before we assessed the impact of social, we found it hard to make a solid business case – to the company or our franchisees – about how we were performing and what we should do as a result. By understanding what topics, issues, and types of content drive conversation and engagement, we’ve been able to fine-tune our content and  engagement strategies.

Sacha Clark
Country Marketing Director at
Subway UK & Ireland

Practice & Location

Marketing Effectiveness


Subway UK & Ireland needed to understand how effective its social media activity was. The marketing leadership team wanted to give the board a rationale for what they should invest in which channels, based on actual impact of social media. And as Subway is a franchised operation, the team also needed to address franchisee questions about what central marketing delivered through social.


We analysed all paid, earned, and owned social media content generated by and about Subway in the UK & Ireland during the second half of 2016 and compared this with the other three big players in the quick-service restaurant category: McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King.

We found that Subway generated the highest levels of positive and neutral sentiment in both Twitter (80% of posts were positive or neutral) and Facebook (77%) – better ratings than any of its competitors. Subway also saw the largest percentage growth in fans and followers on both platforms, up 10.9% (Twitter) and 3.4% (Facebook). And we showed that Subway was growing its fanbase faster than its competitors despite spending less than a quarter on offline advertising compared with the category’s biggest spender, McDonald’s.

Ebiquity’s Analytics team calculated the strength of connections between paid advertising content and earned social media coverage. This helped to identify that TV and radio were the strongest drivers of earned media coverage for Subway, while out-of-home had minimal impact.


The analysis of peaks and troughs of activity across a busy, six-month period allowed Subway to plan social activity better as a properly integrated component of marketing. It enabled Subway to join up messaging across social and other channels, as well as making best use of different social channels to drive optimal engagement. This included using Facebook to entertain, Twitter to give healthy lifestyle advice, and Instagram to feature product and packaging look and feel.

While the story remained largely the same, different channels now do what they each do best.

Generated higher volume of proactive and engaging social media content

Fine-tuned content strategies most relevant for each social media platform

Achieved best-in-class customer engagement compared with competitors

Set up dedicated customer service Twitter, based on travel/retail model

Project & Process

Reviewed all social media activity for Subway vs competitors

Assessed Twitter and Facebook for content and sentiment

Identified levers of fan growth in quick service restaurant sector

Demonstrated link between paid ads and earned social