Across all cultures, food carries a significant social element. It’s meant to be seen, shared, and discussed. This makes food startups and social media a particularly strong pairing, as all of the major social networks lend themselves to doing those very things.
In general, social media is a valuable tool for startups because they have relatively low barriers to entry and few, if any, upfront costs; it’s ideal when you have a small budget to work with. To really get a lot out of social media, however, you do need to put in some elbow grease and time. In this article, we’ll share five tips that will help your food startup get the most out of your social efforts.
1) Use Facebook for market research
Social media is best known for making it easy for you to look at your friends’ latest vacation pictures, read the news, and watch cat videos. What is often overlooked is that these platforms, and Facebook in particular, have robust ad platforms that make it easy to do market research at little to no cost.
The ad platform on Facebook allows you to hone in on audiences based on location, interests, job titles, and other user information. The platform will also tell you the size of that audience and the cost it will take to reach them, which is important to know when you’re trying to strategically allocate your budget and determine which creative messaging you want to run.
Once you’ve selected an audience, you can invest a small amount of money to run different ads, testing messaging and visual concepts and measuring the response they get on Facebook. Understanding which creative concepts and audiences generate the best results can inform the strategic and creative decisions you make regarding offline marketing campaigns, such as sales presentations or print collateral.
You can also use the Audience Insights tool on your company’s business page to dig deep into the demographics of your audience, as well as the responses they give to everything you post.
2) Get visual
There’s a popular expression you’ve probably heard: “Presentation is everything.” If you sell a food product, make sure your social strategy involves a strong visual component to attract and entice consumers.
It’s hard to find a successful food brand today that doesn’t do this, which is a sign that it’s a must-do. Almost every major social network that publishes user engagement data has found that posts with great visuals perform better in terms of likes, shares, and clickthrough rates.
Here are a few examples of great visual content that’s worth emulating on your own social profiles:
FoMu - Boston-based FoMu makes small batch ice cream, smoothies, and baked goods, and like Bien Cuit, they’ve invested in top-shelf photography to showcase their products. They also like to mix in some humorous photos of their cookies, giving their brand some levity alongside the more artistic pictures. The takeaway: Use imagery to convey the humorous side of your brand.
Ocean Spray - Ocean Spray, a Mass.-based agricultural cooperative of cranberry growers, is synonymous with all things cranberry, and their social profiles only reinforce that. From pictures of delicious recipes featuring cranberries, to shoutouts to their farmers and everything in between, Ocean Spray’s visual content is attractive and informative. The takeaway: Your visuals can, and should, be beautiful and educational where it’s appropriate.
Bien Cuit - This New York bakery’s social media is home to some extremely high-quality photos of various baked goods that are almost an experience unto themselves. The great resolution in the photos makes it so the viewer can almost hear the bread breaking. The takeaway: Invest in good photography.
It’s important to remember that Instagram isn’t the only “visual” social channel. Don’t be afraid to cross-post your pictures and videos to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or even Snapchat.
3) Pull back the curtain
An increasing number of people today want to know exactly how the food they eat is sourced, prepared, packaged, etc. You can use your social platforms to do that with videos, pictures and short blurbs about what happens behind the scenes at your company, whether it’s a profile of a local farmer you source from or an explainer video on your processes. It’s all about transparency.
One example of a startup doing this is Beyond Meat - a manufacturer of plant-based meat products. Their social media profiles feature unique recipes that can be made using only Beyond Meat’s products, as well as videos on how plant-based meats are made.
Or, look at Happy Family, a producer of organic baby and toddler foods. They use their website and social channels to let customer know exactly where their ingredients come from. YouTube videos show users the farms that supply the company’s ingredients, while Facebook posts show the ingredients that go into the products and nutrition information.
4) Be personal
Not only do people want to know what goes on behind the curtain at your company, they want to know a little bit about the people who work there. Adding a personal touch to your company profiles is a great way to connect with like-minded fans. Whether it’s through pictures or stories, putting a human face and personality behind your brand will make your content much more compelling and relatable.
Few food companies are doing this as well as Modern Pop - a California-based popsicle company making fruit-first popsicles with minimal ingredients. The family who founded and now runs the company shares their personal stories and company news on social media, and most importantly, speaks to their audience in their own voices.
There’s not even a trace of bland corporate speak on any of their profiles, and that’s key in a world where most marketing messages get drowned out in the noise.
5) Let your fans create content for you
If you have a group of dedicated fans (or even your friends and family) who are using your product and posting on social media about it, it’s a good idea to make them part of the process. Fans who take the time to create content love the chance to be featured and the rest of your audience will love creative user-generated content.
Before Chobani ever set up its Instagram profile, fans were already posting pictures of the smoothies and other concoctions they were making using Chobani as the main ingredient. Once the yogurt-maker established its presence on the app, it jumped on the existing trend and began featuring the best fan submissions on its own profiles, while adding its own content highlighting the versatility of the yogurt and making it more than just a breakfast food.
6) Find influencers and tap into their networks
When your company is just starting out, your audience will likely be fairly small. Building it up takes a lot of time, but you can shorten that process by working with influencers who have established audiences that you want to reach. Here are a few tips to working with influencers with both large and niche audiences:
Set goals. With every influencer you work with, ask yourself what you want to get out of the relationship. Is it building up an email list? Getting people to enter a contest? Getting customers to redeem a coupon or deal? Before you reach out to anyone, decide what you want to accomplish.
Research their audiences. If you have an influencer in mind, take a look at their social following, as well as their website’s rank using free tools like Alexa or Quantcast. This will help you determine if someone has enough reach and influence to be worth working with.
Make sure your brands are aligned. Ensure the influencer you want to work with doesn’t have any potential conflicts of interests, has a similar voice to your brand’s, and isn’t likely to land you in hot water on controversial issues.
Build a real relationship. Don’t view influencer marketing as transactional. Look at it as an opportunity to work with a community leader toward a mutual goal. Reach out and have real conversations, ask for their advice, promote their content, and establish a real connection.
Have a budget. Most influencers with large followings likely have a full plate, and aren’t willing to donate their time to help someone else make money. Be prepared to pay a flat or hourly rate for any projects you work on with an influencer.
One example of using influencer marketing to great effect was Naturebox’s partnership with well-known mommy blogger Joanna Goddard. The company posted photos taken by Goddard of her children enjoying a snack from Naturebox, which collectively got over 1,200 likes on Instagram. This kind of exposure among such a targeted audience can be worth more than an advertisement in a bigger publication with a less focused audience.
Don’t feel compelled to try all of these tactics at once. Try one or two and see what results you get. What makes social media so powerful for any startup is the ability to experiment and see what drives the best results without spending a fortune in doing so. To make things easier, social media automation tools such as Hootsuite, Sprout, Buffer and others can reduce the amount of time you need to spend manually handling tasks like posting and running ads.
Food is a linchpin in social interactions and relationship building offline, and the same can hold true online. For food startups, social media is one of the most powerful ways to tap into this dynamic on a wider scale to build a base of loyal, like-minded customers. These tips should give you a head start on doing just that.
Camden Gaspar is a Copywriter and Content Strategist at Ideometry specializing in content strategy, writing and marketing. You can follow him on Twitter at @camden_gaspar. Ideometry is a full-service marketing agency located in Boston helping awesome companies and organizations amplify their growth strategies. Learn how we built a great brand for a local BBQ startup that gave them instant credibility and helped them grow quickly. Reach out to Camden at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about their services.