Domino’s ($DPZ), the classic choice for urban pizza delivery, is undergoing an auspicious and industrious climb in Facebook “Were Here” counts and followers, beating out competitors Papa Johns and Pizza Hut. 

Domino's “Were Here” saw a first radical shift in its climb rate in November 2016, from about 8,000 more per month to 14,000 additional tags per month, as discovered in the Thinknum Data Lab. This happened again around July 17, 2017, after which the slope rose to roughly 18,000 more tags per month. As of writing, Domino’s “Were Here” count has exceeded 570K. 

Were Here counts occur when a customer and Domino’s are tagged either via a post or a photo post. It's become a reliable measure for foot traffic as the world's biggest social network continues to be an important marketing vehicle.

Consistent social media growth is a rote standard of digital marketing and customer outreach for any business, but a competing pizza delivery service, Papa John’s ($PZZA), hasn’t seen near as much growth recently despite being ahead of Domino's in terms of Were Here count until just last year.

In fact, when comparing the two, we can see clearly where Domino's took off and Papa John's cooled off.

Usually these growth spurts can be linked to new digital-centric campaigns or rebranding seasons, but Domino’s steady growth is accompanied by a wild series of upward spikes in Facebook likes that go all the way back to July 2016. At first glance, an entourage of new digital campaign services may be the hidden agent behind this consistent growth.

So why the Facebook success?

After scrolling down Domino’s Facebook page, passing hundreds of customer photos of mutated, sub-par pizzas (a regular occurrence for all pizza delivery vendors — just look at this, this,and this), we found a videofrom Aug. 29 showing a man enter his phone number into a dial attached to the backdoor of a car. The rear window opens, revealing two pizza boxes. It seems Domino’s and Ford (​$nyse:f) partnered to offer self-driving cars for deliveryin select cities. While this occurs in the same month as the first “Were Here” change in slope mentioned above, it was alas in 2016 -- a full year before the first 2017 inflection point in question.

However, Domino’s saw a series of radical ascents in Facebook likes and subscribers around the launch of drone delivery, and then jumped 25k, 14k, and 9k on Jan 17, 2018, Jan 18, 2017, and Mar. 21, 2018, respectively, whereas Papa John’s actually fell 17k around Mar. 10, 2015. Papa John’s is now at a little less than six million likes compared to Domino’s roughly 20 million.

It's not the drones

There are real-world explanations as to why the rise in “Were Here” count may be connected to the self-driving delivery service. For instance, ambling around outside in pajamas or nightgown in full view of neighbors and friends doesn’t sound like a usual motivation to order delivery. Since drone delivery requires customers to step out of the house and physically retrieve their pie from the car, it could be that more customers opt for pick-up, since they’ll have to present themselves to the public either way. But self-driving delivery service has only seen testing in Miami and Ann Arbor, and so shouldn’t account for a 200,000 “Were Here” lead over Papa John’s.

Consequently it’s more than a stretch to posit a direct correlation betwixt drone car pizza delivery and Domino’s first jump in “Were Here” growth rate. But Domino’s has launched other services in the past year which may have carried the proverbial flag through its second “Were Here” inflection point.

It's the digital savvy

In early April this year, Domino’s launched a mini-gamecalled “Pie in the Sky Pursuit,” where customers can play simple Domino’s-themed arcade games, the first-place prize being an actual pizza. Later that month, a cache of 150,000 hotspot locationswent active in select cities where pie lovers could eat out on their day in the park or munch on hawaiian slices outside before a night of casino-hopping in Las Vegas.

Neither of these directly coincide with the second inflection point of Facebook “Were Here” growth counts, but maybe we’re missing the big picture. Consistent macroeconomic patterns usually mask long-term structural forces at play that keep the vacillations of digital economy at bay. This rule-of-thumb holds true for Domino’s, whose early and prescient investment in digital-centric consumer technologiesat the outset of this decade, despite skepticism of its peers and customers, helped it edge out in global sales ahead of its main rival Pizza Hut ($nyse:yum) as the leading pizza restaurant in the world. And, according to Domino’s CEO J. Patrick Doyle, the move was intentional. These advances include one of the first delivery trackers and a voice recognition system (called “Dom”).

Although the introduction of self-driving delivery may have fueled Facebook likes and subscribers, which may in turn have buttressed unseen variations in the digital economy in the year preceding Domino’s first inflection point in “Were Here” growth, Domino’s digital-centric innovation is the soundest diagnosis for its social media — and business — success.

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