Why You Need Social Media for Your Food Business

No other medium matches social's immediacy, affordability, or sheer viral power

Capturing the meal with smartphone in cafe
••• Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images

You probably already use Facebook, Twitter, or some other form of social media. But don't overlook its potential benefits for your food business.

Social media is a one-stop shop for many of the tools you need to grow your business. It can connect you with people who are interested in products like yours. It can be a source of instant feedback and a market research tool. It can help you bond with customers and potential customers.

It can help you promote a sale or other special event in an instant.

Don't just "lurk." Jump in and post. Sign up for groups of people who are interested in your kind of product. Comment on other posts or simply "like" someone else's comment. You're networking and forming bonds with your customers, just as you would strive to do in person.

Many social sites out there, but Facebook and Twitter dominate for this purpose. A 2018 survey by bar supplies retailer Nisbets found that Facebook was the most popular social media platform for catering businesses. Eighty-one percent of respondents cited it as the most important tool for their marketing efforts, according to ModernRetaurantManagement.com. Twitter followed as the second most popular social media platform, with 20 percent believing it has helped their marketing strategy.

“A simple mention of an idea or a new product on a social media platform can lead to immediate reaction, and not just from one person,” notes a recent Penn State University study.

“Social media allows you to gather reactions and information from dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, at one time.”

David Hochman of DJH Marketing Communications offers some explanations of how to make social media work best for a food business.

What Social Media Does

Hochman does not see social media as a standalone vehicle but as part of a marketing strategy.

"It enhances your traditional marketing and PR vehicles, which include print, radio, TV advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), telemarketing, direct mail, email marketing (such as Constant Contact), and press releases," he said. In other words, social media is strongest when you have one or more marketing tools working for you.

But social media has attributes that traditional media lack. Hochman cites the deli manager of Sickles Market in New Jersey, who wanted to do an "all soups 15 percent off" promotion immediately. A coupon would have had to wait for a printer's schedule. Facebook had the offer posted within an hour. The deli's customers showed up for the promotion the same day.

The fancy term for it is friction-less marketing. "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," Hochman explained.

Why Food Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Social Media

In this case, real-time response is the key. Consumer needs and preferences change rapidly, and older methods like the focus group are just a snapshot of consumer feedback.

If you stick with it, social media participation will give your customers real-time access to your products and the people behind the company.

Social media allows you to create an identity in ways that were unaffordable in the past. From a marketing and branding perspective, every entrepreneur can personalize their brand, in the fashion of Newman's Own or Orville Redenbacher.

From a purely operations perspective, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs also can help reduce inbound calls to your company, lowering operating expenses.

Social media helps cash-strapped startups develop and publish a brand story and key product messages that directly reach specific market segments without having to pay dearly for public relations and advertising expertise and traditional media placement.

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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