Social Media, Food and Fun Come Together for Marketing Success

Social media is ubiquitous, and over the last decade and a half its development has shaped society and culture. Although some dismiss it as a new trend, its roots actually date back to the 1970s. In truth, the practice of human beings sharing experiences, feelings and opinions with each other has been a constant for several thousand years. That's why successful social media networks have risen to their current statuses. Nearly every business, including food companies, are taking advantage of this to promote their products and services. And understanding how many firms do this efficaciously is rather important.Social Media, Food and Fun Come Together for Marketing Success

A Quick History of Social Media

You may find it surprising that the origins of social media are over 40 years old. The ancestor of modern social platforms, CompuServe, was founded in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. In 1978, it began offering its services to home users and in 1980 it started supplying online access to the Columbus Dispatch to subscribers — a predecessor to news media organizations displaying their content on the World Wide Web and then later on social media platforms. Later, Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) carried the model further, allowing dialup access by which users could chat with each other and share information.

However, Digital Trends credits AOL as the first to implement a nascent version of the structure behind many of today's networks. The service also featured chatting capabilities, user-created communities and member profiles. And while some of these separate functionalities existed in text-based form, such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and Usenet Newsgroups, AOL and similar services evolved in their midst. Many of today's services offer similar features — for example, Facebook's user profiles, private chat and online groups.

Eventually, LinkedIn and MySpace were developed, continuing to define what social media was. Soon to follow were Facebook and Twitter. Now, new platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram allow users to share images. Meanwhile, Tumblr has developed to do double duty, acting as both a microblogging and social networking site.

Private Users Aren't the Only Ones Sharing

Businesses that know how to leverage social media frequently enjoy success. They are able to take advantage of direct engagement with customers and brand promotion in these environments. The Muse writer Nina Tamburello discusses some common strategies food firms use. These typically consist of

  • building a community around the brand;
  • personalized customer approaches;
  • encouraging fan participation; and,
  • communicating the uniqueness of the brand.

Tamburello gives some prominent examples of companies who relish in their success when maximizing these moves. For instance, Whole Foods is a national chain whose brand image is meant to feel like a small-town community grocer. For that reason, part of their social media presence focuses on local areas, answering locally-specific questions and promoting regional specials on each city-based Twitter account. Another strategy they've used is to host weekly Twitter chats on topics of interest to its customer base, such as gluten-free cooking.

Others, such as Ben & Jerry's, focus on the uniqueness of their brand in their social media promotions. Followers of their Twitter account can frequently find alternating messages, some promoting the importance of fair trade products while others containing Grateful Dead lyrics (and no wonder, considering that one of their most famous flavors is Cherry Garcia!). With a mix of fun and emphasis on social responsibility, B&J continues to see strong sales.

However, some firms use a clever combination of these. One notable example is plant-based food company Hampton Creek, the maker of dairy-free mayonnaise, cookie dough, cookies and other products. Part of its social media strategy is heavily visually focused — an amalgam of showing and telling, with heavy emphasis on showing. They regularly post recipes and other innovative ways to use their products on Facebook. In other cases, they use image-based networks like Instagram to display delicious finished products, pointing viewers to their YouTube channel for the recipes.

Food Marketing and Social Media: a Logical Combination

Because marketing strategies for food products are so highly visual, it's no surprise that food firms have hopped on the social media bandwagon to drive up sales. Careful thought to technique typically pays off, as in the cases of Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry's and Hampton Creek. Finding the appropriate mix of social media marketing tactics that best support the brand image is the key to successful product promotion.
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