Perhaps the most effective tool you have for brand building in today's business climate is social media marketing. Not only can it help to build loyalty among your existing customers, it can help you reach out to new customers.
Organic and viral social media movements have been instrumental in helping food service brands to expand beyond their traditional geographic regions, reinvigorated brands that had once written off for the dustbin of restaurant history and even helped to resurrect dead products from the recipe grave.
So how can you harness the power of social media to engage your customer base and propel your food service business or product line forward?
There are 3 simple rules.
1. Have a strategy.
Do your marketing research beforehand. Know who you want to reach and where you can reach them. And don't try to market to everyone straight off. First, grow a core consumer base, then worry about expanding it.
Want to market your fast-and-fresh restaurant concept to students who eat on-the-go, in between activities? Twitter and Instagram are probably your best bets for social media engagement.
Produce content that is quick, witty and shareworthy. The more bizarre or sardonic the humor, the better. Quirky, attention grabbing visuals, short videos and participatory games and contests will engage your base.
Trying to grab the attention of "savvy moms" concerned about providing nutritional meals to their growing families?
Pinterest and Facebook are going to be your best social media friends. Moms are super-sharers, too, but they're less likely to share sarcasm-oriented pieces and much more likely to share things like recipe ideas, "life hacks" and emotive branding.
Looking to attract investors, suppliers and franchisers to your concept? If so, LinkedIn and Twitter will help you to reach entrepreneurs and opportunity seekers.
Orient your content toward trends in business and in society. Show how your product or concept captures, or how it could capture, demonstrated consumer demand. Don't be afraid to show what is different or innovative about your product, and don't worry about competitors copying you. Just get there first.
2. Once you start, keep the content coming.
A social media channel that posts up some vague brand ballyhoo once in a blue moon isn't going to do anything for you. Don't just tout your brand and talk details about your product line— engage your consumer base.
Develop a marketing calendar and adhere to it. Know what your going to post on what days, for weeks and months out. Make sure that your content will dovetail with what you intend to do in the market during those times. Set your content to post during peak usage hours: weekday mornings, late afternoons and during big, nationally-televised events when people are likely to be buzzing.
Most purchases are based not on quantifiable data, rather on how customers feel about your product. Do they want to be "in on the next big thing," or do they feel good about the way you operate and the way you present yourself? Do they think your product will help them to eat healthier and live better? Do they like that you use free-range or fair-trade products?
Once you know why customers look to your brand, engage them on those terms.
The most important point here is to consistently post content that fosters discussion with— and between— your customers. Ask questions of them. Answer questions posed to you. Show how your food concept isn't something to be consumed, but lived and sworn by.
3. Monitor your traffic, search your brand and watch what your competitors do.
One of the best ways to stay on top of your market and identify areas of opportunity or need is to watch how people respond to your product on social media. What are they talking amongst themselves about? What (and why) are they sharing?
You also want to make sure that you are using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure that your content comes up before your competitors' content. You need to grab attention straight off and hold onto it.
Relentlessly searching your own brand can help you to identify holes in your marketing strategy and also help you ward off challenges from the competition. Have you noticed that a competitor's jerk chicken sandwich comes up first when you type in "spicy chicken?" Is this the result of a taste shift, or just better marketing?
When you search your business, too, you might stumble upon conversations in which consumers are lauding your brand— helping you identify successes to expand upon with your marketing— or where they are taking it to task.
The key is never to feel insulted or to engage in a social media shouting match.
If you see consumers repeatedly mentioning areas for your product or service to improve, make changes. Then show what you've done on your channels. Don't just talk about it. Actions, after all, speak louder.
Once you've ventured out into the social media market, stick to it.
There are few things that make your brand appear less credible than a zombie platform. Don't launch a Twitter handle, post a few things and then let it sit idle and unused. People are left wondering if your business is failing, or if it has already failed, and they'll be less apt to seek you out. Remember, the trick is to post early, post often and most of all, engage.