Social Media and Customer Engagement: Tim Hortons and the Smile Cookie program

tinageisel    February 5, 2015


Organization Name: Tim Hortons Inc.

Industry: Canada’s largest quick service restaurant chain; known for its
coffee & doughnuts.

Name of contact if available: Marc Caira, President & Chief Executive Officer

Who Are They?

Tim Hortons is a Canadian multinational fast casual restaurant known for its coffee and doughnuts. Aside from its coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and doughnuts, Tim Hortons menu now contains a number of other baked goods, such as doughnut holes (Timbits), muffins, croissants, tea biscuits, cookies, rolls, danishes, and bagels.

Founded in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, by Canadian hockey player Tim Horton and Jim Charade. In 1967, Horton partnered with investor Ron Joyce, who assumed control over operations after Horton died in 1974 in a car accident.

Today, with over 3,000 locations in Canada, the market has led to its branding as a Canadian cultural icon. Noted Canadian author Pierre Berton wrote:

“In so many ways the story of Tim Hortons is the essential Canadian story. It is a story of success and tragedy, of big dreams and small towns, of old-fashioned values and tough-fisted business, of hard work and of hockey.”

Tim Hortons is a prominent feature of Canadian life, and with that comes great customer loyalty, retention and devotion to their products and the use of social media. Trust is very important in the social media-enabled customer relationship. Trust, makes it less likely that a customer will go elsewhere.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 6.05.27 PM

On a personal note, one that supports the above, with two young boys who play minor hockey, I’m a true “Timmy’s Junkie” so to speak. With my “Tim’s” (coffee) in hand, becoming somewhat of an accessory of mine, as I enter any given hockey arena. Granted,
I have had my fair share of Tim Hortons coffee that tasted like the bottom of the coffee pot and had numerous burnt bagels served to me, I continue to be a loyal Tim Hortons customer, because I am Canadian! (and… drink coffee!)

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 4.33.16 PM

Example of Tim Hortons and Customer Engagement:

Customers view Tim Hortons as more than an organization, but as people– and so, if you engage with people in customer communities, customers see that it’s real people and stand behind the product and want to be involved in the development.

This customer engagement style type known as Community Builder is used by
Tim Hortons. Building a community through social media around a product is an effective strategy to build awareness and allow people to share their support for a common cause.

Tim Hortons sponsors many community outreach programs including Free Skating, Free Swimming, Earn-a-Bike Program, Remembrance Day, Food Drives, community clean-up projects and the Smile Cookie program…


What is the Smile Cookie program?

The Smile Cookie program is a community-oriented sponsorship program that raises funds for local charities across Canada and the US. These special smiling chocolate chip cookies are available for a limited time only. This unique program originated in Hamilton, Ontario in 1996 as a way to help raise funds for the McMaster Children’s Hospital. Since then, it has expanded across Canada helping a variety of children’s charities, hospitals and community programs.

Example of the Smile Cookie program in my community:

There were plenty of smiles on October 26th, at KidsAbility in Waterloo, Ontario as the annual Tim Hortons Smile Cookie program raised $100,000. The local Tim Hortons restaurant owners proudly handed over the dough to the KidsAbility Centre for Child Development. The proceeds from the Smile Cookie program will help provide life-changing, quality therapy, programs and support to children with special needs and their families.

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 9.03.57 PM   Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 4.23.15 PM

How Social Media & Customer Engagement contributed to the success
of the program:

People were encouraged to post Smile Cookie selfies on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag: #smilecookie , bringing added awareness to the program.

smile cookie selfie     Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 4.50.18 PM

It was a huge success with a gallery of creative Smile Cookie selfie images. Even I jumped on the bandwagon:

Screen shot 2015-02-05 at 4.34.17 PM

Lessons for others

Engaging customers through social media in order to drive them to an event can be an effective strategy to build awareness and allow people to share their support for a common cause. There are some great lessons from the Tim Hortons Smile Cookie program:

  • Co-ordinating the messaging between social media pages demonstrates a clear connection between organizations relating to the one event.
  • Use of photos and stories of real people when building awareness.
  • Hashtag usage on Twitter and Instagram allows other people to share in telling the story of the event.

Web references:

Submitted By: Tina Geisel, SMBP Student, University of Waterloo

To contact the author of this entry please email at:

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance.