How to Make Social Media Work for Your Food Business

Capturing the meal with smartphone in cafe
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I am a big proponent of Social Media in food and because of its importance to Food Entrepreneurs; a monthly series of articles will focus on this all important topic. Some of the articles will be "how to" focused and others will feature best practices of consumer food brands, both large and small.

I asked my colleague, David Hochman of DJH Marketing Communications, to participate in an interview with a focus on how to make social media work for your food business.

What Social Media Does

This is a common question that comes up frequently and David points out the benefits of social media in your marketing mix. David says "It enhances your traditional marketing and PR vehicles which include print, radio, TV advertising, search engine optimization (S.E.O), telemarketing, direct mail, email marketing (such as Constant Contact) and press releases." Dave points out that social media is strongest when you have one or more marketing tools working for you so don't abandon what is working for you.

Social Media supplants traditional marketing by filling in the gaps where traditional marketing isn't sufficient. For example, print couponing constraints you by the publisher's schedule. Dave said a good example is "the deli manager of Sickles Market in New Jersey wanted to do an 'all soups 15% off' promotion immediately. Within an hour their facebook page had the offer posted.

The deli manager said they had customer's respond within the same day." He said the fancy marketing term is "frictionless" marketing. In the past Sickles' only option for last minute promotions was in-store signage which is limited to those people already committed to going to the store. "The interesting thing here is they were able to compare traditional marketing of the past to this new social media effort and they saw a sizable increase in sales." Said Dave.

Why Food Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Social Media

According to Dave, "Social media tools help the food entrepreneur obtain valuable, specific real-time information on what moves your market and influences consumers." Real-time is the key since the consumer is changing rapidly and older methods like the focus group are but a snapshot of consumer feedback in time.

Social media allows customer's access to the people who make up your company as well as relevant info about your brand and products. From a marketing/branding perspective, this means every company can personalize their brand like the well-known brands Newman's Own and Orville Redenbacher. Social media allows you to personalize your brand, create an identity in ways that were unaffordable in the past, especially by using hashtags around a particular topic. From a purely operations perspective, Facebook, Twitter and blogs can help reduce inbound calls to your company, lowering operating expenses.

Social media improves intra-employee communications, enhances staff morale, and potentially reduces turnover.

For startups strapped for cash, Social Media enables you to develop and publish your brand story and key product messages that directly reach your market segments without having to pay dearly for the PR & advertising to overcome the filters and paywalls erected by third-party media.

3 Simple, Engaging Social Media Ideas for Food Brands

Before you embark on a Social Media initiative, it is imperative to define your Goals and Objectives

Defining Goals and Objectives is key for any aspect of your food business. It is critically important for social media since many businesses jump into this tactic since it appears to be the magic bullet of marketing success. It is pretty easy to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account. Once you have those, what will you expect as success outcomes?

Here are some key questions to consider:

What kind of user engagement/conversion(s) are you seeking? Are you supporting the retail channel in that they should they look for your product on store shelves OR do you want to convert them into a direct customer i.e. buy your food product direct from your ecommerce website? You can do both, but you should prioritize one or the other.

How will you ignite the dialogue and keep your influencers engaged beyond just marketing to them? Will you give stuff away for free? Invest in creating compelling content? You can do it all and you can always change it up anytime but again you should prioritize.

How, and how often, are you going to engage / respond to the user activity? Just because you don't have to pay every time you do something as with traditional PR and advertising doesn't mean you shouldn't develop a marketing calendar with careful consideration.

How do you measure success? Return on Investment (ROI) can and should be measured in other ways besides increases in revenue. Consider ROI in Social Media as such - even though social media, as a platform and series of channels, is inexpensive or free to host a presence, time and resources still carry fixed costs.

To that end, if we enhance our presences or apply greater resources, the investment goes up exponentially. It comes down to the old adage, "time is money."

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