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A Hipper, Social Four Seasons Hotel Drives High Return Rate [CASE STUDY]

(Four Seasons, Chicago - Social Media Influencers | by Beauchaine Photography)

The Quest for Youth

I don't know about you, but when I think of The Four Seasons brand, I think oppulent, but overly conservative. Certainly not youthful, hip or progressive.

Apparently, I'm not alone. Until recently, the restaurant at The Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago catered to an older demographic, comprised mostly of wealthy travelers and classy businessmen. But those folks are aging fast, and the chain knows it.

With the rise in popularity of chic and eco-chic hotels like The W and LoftFour Seasons knew it needed to appeal to a fresh demographic. says of the former, "The W Chicago City Center hotel is where the young and beautiful people go to be seen."

In June of 2012, The Four Seasons launched Allium, an upscale American restaurant & bar, in the hopes of bringing in hip, connected, and affluent Chicagoans. But the Four Season’s traditional marketing and advertising efforts weren’t focused on this new customer base.   It needed a partner to help with a new marketing campaign – a campaign that would attract a younger influential audience in touch with social media to help drive traffic and awareness.

The solution? Focus on where younger people are making their buying decisions--social media.


The Four Seasons Director of Food & Beverage, Jann Kaiser understood what he needed to do and set aside a social media budget to create awareness over these new channels.  Upon introduction to Freebie Founder Ben Rosenfield in May, Jann was immediately sold on a partnership with the company's promise to create an immediate impact by focusing on social media influencers.

Allium partnered with Freebie on two influencer events that took place during the summer of 2013, with the purpose of targeting two different types of customers. These events were the first steps to an ongoing monthly campaign which keeps Allium within the online conversation. 


The first event was Allium’s Flash Lunch, a modern-day power lunch for working professionals, which included a three-course prix fix menu priced at $28.00, and an opportunity to pay for the entire meal with their social capital instead of traditional cash or credit.

As you can imaging, everyone chose to pay with their social capital. Freebie advised Allium on who to target for the event, namely, the most socially-connected working professionals in the city, to spark the social media conversation. “Let a post settle the bill,” was the theme, meaning that by redeeming through the mobile application, the social posting generated by the application would be the only form of required payment. 

The posts that hit the influencers' page after they left the location included “@Alliumchicago and #Flashlunch”:

Social Influencer in Action

As expected, guests flexed their Social Capital, delivering:

  • 84 social postings across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • 533,000 impressions
  • and hundreds of organic engagements. 

In a short amount of time, Freebie was able show the effects of the word of mouth campaign, driving new customers and return visits to the restaurant.  Freebies’ magic is that they can show a “return on influence” by allowing Influencers a mobile platform to pay with their social capital in exchange for goods and services.  “Social Capital” is one’s value to a business or brand if a social posting is made promoting the experience.

And ROI? The promotion proved to be a much more effective and efficient way of reaching the demographic they wanted at a much lower cost than traditional media. 

Evening Socializing in Real Life

The second event focused on driving young influentials who socialize during the evening hours. Again, Freebie advised on who to invite to this exclusive dining experience, which included a cocktail reception followed by a three-course meal, paid for with Social Capital.

In the end, 218 social posts were generated in a matter of three hours. Not bad for a first time engagement. The hashtag #partyatallium trended over Instagram and Twitter and the Allium brand marketed itself by simply allowing their service, food, and atmosphere an opportunity to sell itself.

The Returns

Integration with Freebie allowed Allium to track the results including whether any of these guests or their followers came back as a result of the promotion. The sytem's calculation of ROI is based on datapoints that include:

  1. Introducing new customers to the hotel's restaurant
  2. Creating viral awareness from those customers to their followers about the brand
  3. Tracking return visits

In the end, both events generated:

  • 302 total social posts
  • 2,429 total engagements
  • 2,563,029 total potential impressions

Freebie tracked return customers and new customers generated by the campaign, and saw that Allium achieved a 40 percent customer return rate. Freebies can only be redeemed once, yet 40% of customers were driven back to Allium for a second dining experience. These customers, as well as others that engaged in their social postings, returned to Allium for a second time -- without incentive.

Kaiser and The Four Seasons team were delighted with the results. "A reliable method to measure social media success is something everyone has been looking for and finally Freebie figured it out," he said. The campaign continues to drive revenue for Allium today. Now, targeted influencers can redeem free meals and experiences in exchange for a branded, non-opinionated social post on their network.

It all starts with offering the right people, remarkable services...for free.

Join The Conversation

  • Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Sam Smith

    Speaking of gamification, I have to be careful of the apps I download, as my kids have been known to "play games" on my iPad, and it turns out later that they were (inadvertently) shopping. ;)

    But more seriously, we know that people like to spend money at places where they have fun experiences, and the social/online interactivity of the event you've described sounds like another layer of fun on top of the party itself. It would be interesting to know how many people didn't attend the event but heard about it through social media and later visited the hotel.

  • SocialMktgFella's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago SocialMktgFella

    Gamification + Social + Real-World Reward. 

  • SocialMktgFella's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago SocialMktgFella

    Precisely. The cost of the promotion, aside of the SW, is only the food & drink. 

  • Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Sam Smith

    I started out just thinking about how this is a unique way of reaching a younger audience, but when I got to the end of the article and saw the 40% return rate, it really blew me away. I would love to be seeing a 40% return rate after a promotion. Wow.

    The other cool thing about this type of promotion is that it can happen really quickly. Sometimes an event sneaks up on me, and I realize that I haven't done enough to get the word out. Seems like this app lets you make up for lost time with a flurry of posts within a short time frame.

  • Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago kateelisco

    I agree! Given all the time and resources brands put behind social media marketing, they should really take note of this successful campaign with Allium. Consumers love paying with their social currency, and needless to say, the businesses love the automated word of mouth marketing produced. Brilliant indeed!

  • Mandypoet's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Mandypoet

    A very clever idea! I've seen people live-blogging or tweeting during events, of course, but this takes it to another level. I like the "everybody wins" aspect to it, too; a lot of times there are contests on social media where you can enter to *possibly* win a prize by sharing a post, etc, but this is more tangible.

    I can see how Freebie could be used to reach people with interests in specific fields--as a writer, I am imagining how someone could use it to have a creative book launch party. :)


  • Ross_Quintana's picture
    Dec 20 Posted 3 years ago Ross_Quintana

    Great post here! Social currency is key to targeted influence and advertising. I love how they used this for payment. I think they should continue to either allow the influencer to pay with social currency or offer it once a month as an option as multiple posts would reach more of their network. The model is innovative and when it comes to targeted impressions I think it is brilliant. Sharing!

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