Taco Bell

Taco Bell reportedly spent two years perfecting the Quesalupa’s cheese pull.

The company’s social media team closely watches the brand’s Twitter to keep an eye out for customers who are disappointed by cheese that isn’t as stretchy as what is portrayed in ads. If the team spots a complaint, it could lead to an email reminding staff not to overcook a tortilla or let products to sit around for too long after being fried.

Now, when Taco Bell develops new menu items, how the snacks will look on Instagram is top of mind.

“We want to be a part of culture,” Liz Matthews, Taco Bell’s chief innovation officer, told Business Insider.

In many ways, social media platforms like Instagram are also powering Taco Bell’s innovation engine and determining what’s on the fast-food chain’s menu.

Instagram in the kitchen

At Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California, a team of chefs and food scientists spend their days developing a seemingly endless list of new items, each one more bizarre yet strangely appealing than the last. How the food will look in pictures is always on their minds.

“We want people to talk about it, and blog about it, and get excited, and share their pictures,” Matthews said. “We can always make food taste good. But, how do you get that twist that makes it a part of people’s lives instead of just eating?”

The culinary team keeps tabs on the most-Instagrammed Taco Bell menu items. At the top of the list is the brand’s brightly-colored Frozen Freezes. The Cap’n Crunch Delite, which was only available for a limited time, also got its 15 minutes of fame.

“We think the brand is a social experience, so it lends itself to social media,” Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell’s CMO, told Business Insider.

The customer becomes the advertiser

In January, Taco Bell did something it never had before. Instead of relying on ads and traditional media to publicize its new Naked Chicken Chalupa, it put the power in the hands of Instagrammers.

In a handful of cities around the US, the chain held launch parties for people to show up, take photos of the chalupas, and — hopefully — share them on Instagram. “Speakeasies,” where Taco Bell was giving away Naked Chicken Chalupas, were packed with props and bright lights in an attempt to help Instagrammers get the perfect shot of the…