Food trucks are an ideal match for social media. Both social media and food trucks are hot-ticket items, both are in their "startup" phase, and they bring youth, culture, and energy wherever they go.
At the 2012 South by Southwest Interactive, a panel of food truck owners and experts came together to discuss the intersection of social media and food trucks. The panel left the audience with some great insights on how food truck operators use social tools and how other kinds of brands might relate to their efforts.
Here are several ways food trucks use social media to reach, connect with, and engage their audience.
1. Transparency: This is important for most brands. You want people to trust you, and in this day and age, they have to pretty much see your every move in order to do so; especially if you're serving them a meal from a moving vehicle.
The owner and founder of the Southern California Seabirds food truck, Stephanie Morgan, explained that she uses social media platforms to show photos of her staff, the truck, and the sources of the food itself. She regularly checks in and tweets from the local farm where she buys most of her produce. Letting people see where their food comes from and, in the Seabirds case, conveying the story behind it are essential to building her business.
Tip: People want to see more than the finished product. Showing (and not just telling) where things came from and even why you got them from there is important to earn your customers' trust.
2. Offering updates in real time: This point may not be applicable to all brands, but businesses that operate on day-to-day incomes should start focusing their communications and tactics on a day-to-day basis.
All the food-truck owners on the panel—which included Morgan, James DiSabatino and Daniel Shemtob—said they use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to post their daily locations and continually changing menus. In their experience, they've found that people look more to Facebook and Twitter for daily information than to websites. And making even the simplest edits to websites isn't as easy as posting a Facebook update or tweet.
Tip: Give your customers things to get excited about that day, rather than in two weeks. Create a stir around your content in a way that causes people to look forward to your postings, not just stumble upon them.
3. Cultivate communities: When food truck owners master the two points above, they can start to cultivate communities and build a true fan base. They establish a rhythm for their customers to follow. Depending on what type(s) of food they serve, they can also use social media to support a cause or spread awareness on what may be an "underrated" or "overlooked" style of food.
For instance, Seabirds owner Morgan can use her support of the vegan movement and the food she makes to cement herself in a specific community and build a following. Grilled cheese can do the same thing for connoisseurs of cheese or of sandwiches or just people who like their food on the go.
The best platforms for building communities may not always be Facebook or Twitter. The panel emphasized how important it was for them to communicate and engage with food blogs and forums. Tagging other businesses, movements, nonprofits and partners also helps to build a sense of community among your fans.
Tip: When your fans know who you are, what your business values are and whom you support, they're going to jump on the wagon and hold on tight, particularly when you make the effort to engage them.
4. Genuine tactics: All the owners reiterated one point: Don't try to do everything when it comes to social media. Pick a few networks (for foodies, they suggest Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp), and use them well. Try asking a few supporters whether they have a Twitter handle, and reach out to them on the network first. If they tweet about you, find different ways to say thank you and make your interactions meaningful—such as asking for suggestions for next time or about what they ordered, etc.
Tip: Use the "I saw you first" mentality. Never stop being appreciative of your supporters, and make sure you tell them so.
A few other small points that are worth squeezing in:
- Most brands should implement the "bar rule" on their social media. No politics, no religion. Keep it simple and lighthearted.
- Watch your grammar and spelling. When conducting social media on the go, you're usually using a phone. The auto-correct feature can be a killer; be careful, and pay attention to detail.
- Use photos. People love photos, and pictures feature prominently in the Facebook news feed. There's more value in a picture, especially when it comes to showing off your food.
- Take liberties and do fun things. Do things that are personal and real, they'll most likely end up benefitting your brand. Need inspiration for that last point? Look no further than the Seabirds intro to the crew video:
- Use your social media to build long-term brand value and make your customers feel connected to you. It's not only about discounts, Groupon deals, and using the platforms as billboards; have fun, be creative, and make sure you're giving your customers what you would want to experience if you were in their shoes.
Constance Aguilar is a social media strategist and account manager at Abbi Public Relations. You can follow her on Twitter @ConnieAguilar and read her blog posts at The Abbi Agency Blog. A version of this article first appeared on SmartBlog on Social Media.