What Higher Ed Can Learn from Olive Garden

What Higher Ed Can Learn from Olive Garden

As I returned home from a five-month study abroad experience in Italy, I had to readjust to many things about America that I had either forgotten about or missed while gone. Fidget spinners, new music and Selena Gomez and The Weeknd’s budding romance are all a little perplexing to me, but I do have a newfound appreciation for one of the latest fads…the return of Olive Garden.

It’s no secret that millennials prefer to shop, dine and support small businesses. But just when chain restaurants seem to be on the decline in popularity, the Olive Garden logo makes a reappearance on my Twitter timeline.

While reworking through executive board changes and menu updates, the Darden restaurant seems to have found a witty brand voice that really resonates with younger demographics. Olive Garden’s messaging on Twitter plays into key concepts that digital natives are drawn tolike humor and pop culture. Here are three ways Olive Garden is getting millennials and Gen Zers to hit the retweet button:


1. Highlighting the latest pop culture like songs and memes.

The typical millennial Twitter feed is packed full of memes because they’ve become a culture for younger generations. They’re messaged back and forth, commented on and shared as a reflection of one’s personality. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a meme is worth a million. Olive Garden carries out the meme culture perfectly, not only getting a laugh out of millennials, but also calling attention to their food and culture.

[Tweet “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a meme is worth a million.“]


Idea for EDU: Find ways to incorporate images of your school or campus culture into popular memes. When a piece of content is relatable for them, they’re quick to share with their friends.


2. Using polls to interact with their followers.

Polls are a really great way to get your audience involved, as well as gauge what people want. Olive Garden runs polls quite frequently on Twitter that not only get engagement from followers as far as retweets and likes, but that also start a conversation among friends about preferences at the restaurant. Some are done in humor which make them shareable.



While others are done as a strategic way to find preferences among their Twitter audience. When they run these polls, they’re pulling new information about what followers want to see and hear about and what this specific audience appreciates most about the Italian establishment.



Idea for EDU: Run a poll asking students/alumni about their favorite parts of campus or university culture. This is a great way to gather information about your target audience and curate content based on their feedback.


3. Tuning into current events pertinent to their followers.

Olive Garden is aware of what’s going on in their younger followers’ lives and what they find important. When prom rolled around, the restaurant had a series of tweets displaying their expertise in the art of asking someone to the dance.


Idea for EDU: The new semester is just around the corner, which means another move-in day for the books. Start a series of fun Tweets around move-in week with a hashtag to thread the conversation. Offer advice on must-see places on campus or how-to’s on laundry and eating for one.


Colleges and Universities on Social

By refining their brand voice, Olive Garden has found and engaged with a whole new audience. Their sharp listening and social monitoring skills has helped them create content that younger generations find shareable and humorous. Colleges and universities who listen to their followers and have a little fun with their content will find it much easier to connect with digital natives.


How is your institution adapting its brand voice to connect with new generations? Leave ideas in the comments below.

Morgan Noonan
Morgan Noonan
July 6, 2017